A volunteering story by: Luis E Espinosa-Zagal

My friend, Cynthia, has been volunteering at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for a couple of months now. She absolutely loves it there. She helps patients during different therapies. Some patients have a hard time moving or cannot reach certain things, so she helps them exercise and get the things that they need. Many cannot walk on their own so she transports them to their rooms, the dining room, therapies, and to different events occurring on different floors. She says that transportation is her favorite task because she has the most interesting conversations with patients during transportations. She really enjoys spending time with different patients and listening to their stories. Her favorite stories are those that tell how people have come to find their loved ones.
My friend also helps the nurses and therapists. Whenever they need something for patients, she is glad to get it for them. If they ever need help cleaning any equipment, she is glad to lend a hand. She also tries to keep the supply cabinets filled up, because if supplies are always easily available, then patient care becomes easier and faster. She also works to keep the areas clean for patients, especially the dining room area. That area is where patients can come together to chat, eat, and play games together. The cleaner it is, the more welcoming it feels. Whenever there is a bit of free time she also enjoys spending time with patients, listening to them, and playing games with them. She really enjoys helping and spending time with everyone on the floor.

The Inspiration

Usually accidents and illnesses are not foreseen, but they can definitely have a huge impact on people and on all of their loved ones. My friend learned that the hard way. One of her aunts, who she was very close with as a child, developed dementia at a very young age. A ton changed because of this illness for not only her aunt, but for everyone who cared for her. She no longer could do anything by herself. She could not walk, eat, or use the bathroom on her own. Everyone, including my friend spent time helping her do the things she needed to do. Her aunt’s illness grew worse and she could no longer stay at her own home. She was sent to a home where my friend could no longer care for her the same. At the home she noticed the lack of help. There were far more patients than the staff could handle and there were no volunteers there to lend a hand.
After this experience my friend wanted to help other people who were affected by accidents and illnesses. She says that even though she is not a professional and cannot make their illnesses disappear, she can make a patient’s day a bit better. Even if it is just by having a nice short conversation with them or by giving them an extra towel, helping others means a lot to her. This is why she decided to join the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as a volunteer. Her aunt’s illness inspired her to help others with life changing illnesses.

The Aha! moment…

My friend says that she learns a lot from volunteering there. Patients are constantly coming and going, so she meets a ton of different people with different illnesses and different backgrounds. She says that each patient has a story to tell and each story teaches her something new. That is why it is so important for her to spend time with patients.
Volunteering at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago taught her to appreciate the little things in life, such as being able to get up and out of bed on her own. She also says that she learned not to let little things get in the way of having a good day. People are so quick to let things like bad weather or a bad grade get in the way of enjoying their day, but she says she no longer tries to let those things ruin her days. She sees patients struggling to get through their day, and yet they still manage to have a good day. She said that one day an elderly man scolded her for complaining about the awful weather because he had died for a couple of seconds. He told her that every day should be appreciated. She told me that she was glad he scolded her. She believes that these patients are the strongest people she has ever met.
By volunteering there, she has also learned that working with patients is what she wants to do for the rest of her life. Because of her experiences here, she now plans to go to school to become an occupational therapists. These strong and amazing patients have helped her figure out what she wants to do with her career and with her life.

To summarize it in three words…

  • Strength, Care, Progress

Why should you do this

She definitely does recommend people to volunteer like she did. She says it’s a bit hard to work with people in therapies, but if you truly enjoy helping others get back to their lives, than she recommends you volunteer like she did.

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