Right here in Denver, serving all our communities, is Bessie’s Hope, the only organization in the country whose mission has been, for almost three decades, to enhance the lives of nursing home elders and bring generations together in mutually rewarding relationships through volunteer programs for youth, adults and families. Hallmark to the longtime success of their programs is the education and training, preparing all ages, preschool to adult, to have comfortable, meaningful interaction with elders of all cognitive functioning levels, including advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. During its 27 years, Bessie’s Hope has been shining a light on forgotten nursing home elders, and more than 50,000 youth and elders have benefitted from the mutually rewarding relationships. The hundreds of participating adults each year also acknowledge the life-changing impact. Since the 90’s, Regis University graduate healthcare students benefit from the Bessie’s Hope geriatric education and experience, even with the recent remote projects. Adult volunteers have always said that participation in the Bessie’s Hope programs is eye-opening. In the training sessions with the healthcare students, Bessie’s Hope staff persons tell them, providing illustrations and citing research, that ageism runs rampant in healthcare. They can be part of the change.
Bessie’s Hope teaches that in all indigenous cultures, and most remaining cultures, elders are in the highest, most honored status, as the wisdom keepers. Their life experiences and enlightenment provide sage advice to all younger generations. In our culture, we are implicitly (and explicitly) taught at a very young age that the older a person becomes, the less they become. Thus, our society has relegated the oldest of older adults to the lowest status, no longer worthy being listened to, conversing with, sharing ideas with, providing dignity to, having patience with, laughing with.
This is why Bessie’s Hope teaches and works with youth of all ages, including preschoolers. The co-founders of Bessie’s Hope feel that the erosion of respect, empathy and compassion in our society is reflectaed and amplified in cultural epidemics that are labeled with “buzz” phrases, such as ageism, decline in social/emotional intelligence, and bullying. In listening to the elders during their nursing home and assisted living visits and cultivating relationships with the elders, they hear advice, such as “study hard and do well in school and also find something fun you love, like swimming or dancing”; “you just have to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and ask yourself how it would feel”; “stay in school, because you have to graduate from high school,” “it’s important to help others who need your help.”
In Bessie’s Hope Land, social/emotional intelligence flourishes, as youth learn to be the best human being they can. After receiving education and training, including information on Alzheimer’s Disease and related patience compassion and appropriate interaction, such as “be who they think you are,” youth are prepared and exhibit genuine respect. Two beautiful examples of this are a most insightful poem, written by a 16-yr old boy after his visit with an elder gentleman, who thought the boy was his son, with whom the elder had lost several years from being away during “the war.” The other example is what a 9-yr old boy told an elder in “memory care,” when the elder said she couldn’t remember the answer to his question. “That’s okay, I forget things all the time, and I’m really young. You guys are older, and it has to be even harder to remember everything.”
Bessie’s Hope has been shining that light on nursing home elders, 60% of whom received NO personal visitors BEFORE COVID. BECAUSE of COVID, a GIANT light began to shine on the nursing home elders because of the deaths. Bessie’s Hope continued through their “Staying Connected Initiative,” delivering thousands of cards, letters and gifts, and through zoom classes and visits.
In their “Spirit Lifters Project,” one teen and one elder have weekly zoom visits, after which, the teen has assignments based on the questions for each visit. At the following visit, the teen shares the zoom screen and shows the elders such things as newspaper photos of the elder’s hometown during their childhood years and videos of such things as popular dances during their young adult years. AFTER COVID lockdown, families are beginning to come in again, but what about the devastated 60% above?
Bessie’s Hope has resumed “placing” Family and Elders Program volunteers as “surrogate” family members. All the programs of Bessie’s Hope are needed now more than ever, and Bessie’s Hope needs community support to continue changing lives of young and old and to continue the ripple effect that brings positive change to our society.
Register for the June 26 Bridge of Love Virtual Gala, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and participate in the online 2-week auction, attend the fun, entertaining, inspiring virtual gala, become an intergenerational sponsor by being an event sponsor. Call 720-333-3825 or visit www. bessieshope.org. Email linda@ bessieshope.org or mail to PO Box 12675, Denver 80212.