December 26, 2012

Feeding the Elderly: A Labor of Love

When Nancy Milewska volunteered to feed elderly patients at Aviv Centers for Living, the director of human resources was trying to set an example for other volunteers.
However, she soon fell in love with the residents and through it, came to a deeper understanding of the value Aviv’s work.
Milewska is one of about 30 volunteers from the business and executive side of Aviv who stepped up to help serve meals and feed frail elders. The need for volunteers emerged when the Jewish Rehabilitation Center for the Aged in Swampscott closed in September and merged into the new Waldfogel Health Center on the campus of Aviv Centers for Living.
Instead of two large dining facilities at the former JRC, there are nine smaller dining rooms as part of the newer “household” model at Waldfogel. With more frail elders to feed at the same time, the staff needed to mobilize volunteers until they all grew accustomed to the new center.
Executives set the tone by volunteering, but soon found they were getting much more out of it than they expected.
“I think we get more out of it than the residents. I usually feed Helen Morris on the second floor and she barely eats but it’s such a nice feeling to watch her eat and drink and leaves me with a warm heart,” said Milewska.
A few days ago, Milewska was not having much luck getting Morris to eat tomato soup, pureed chicken salad or pears. But, Morris clearly enjoyed Milewska’s friendship and kept kissing her hands.
Stephen Neff, chief executive officer, explained that all the volunteers went through an eight-hour training. Though the need for volunteers has decreased since they are now more comfortable in the new facility, most volunteers are hooked and keep a regular schedule.
As employees who are largely involved in the business side of Aviv get into direct care, they all learn a little bit more about the company and gain respect for the staff that provides care in a warm and nurturing manner to a frail population.
“When you are on the business end, you get focused on your job, but when you get out onto the floors, you know you are working at the right place. When I see the residents and the nursing staff, that’s what its all about,” Milewska said.