From Eighteen to Eighty: How Volunteerism Brings Generations Together

From Eighteen to Eighty: How Volunteerism Brings Generations Together

There’s not much difference between 18 and 80. 

In fact, teenagers and older adults actually have a lot in common. They both long for connection. They both want to feel valued. And, they both have a lot to offer the other. 

That’s what the Jackson Student Leadership Council realized when they volunteered for ACCA’s Be A Santa To A Senior (BASTAS) donation drive. 

Every year, throughout the end of November and the month of  December, ACCA participates in the national BASTAS program. In partnership with Home Instead Senior Care, ACCA collects, wraps and distributes Christmas gifts for older adults in need in the Athens area. This year, students from Jackson County and East Jackson high schools joined the cause — and their role had a fun surprise. Students took time off of school to volunteer at ACCA and realized just exactly what they’d get to do.

“Be A Santa was my absolute favorite project that we’ve done this year… It was so exciting! When they told us that we were going to shop for seniors everyone was so happy. I was so happy!” said Aubrey Rogers, a junior at Jackson County High School. 

With $150 dollars in hand, each pair of students went to work. They spent the morning shopping and making sure each Christmas wish was fulfilled. 

“We spent every last penny there was. It felt like a huge accomplishment because you are shopping for these older adults who aren’t really getting a Christmas, and you’re buying them gifts so they can have a Christmas. Everyone was just really excited and joyful to do it,” said Anna McKinney, a junior at East Jackson High School.  

Through BASTAS, the students were encouraged to look beyond themselves and see the world through another perspective. 

“The older adult community all in all is a little overlooked, and I think it is especially overlooked by young people. When this lady was talking to us at the senior center [at ACCA], she said ‘When I open my eyes in the morning, I have to remind myself that I’m an 83-year-old woman. I don’t feel that way. But, I look in the mirror, and I am. I don’t feel old, but I have all of these extra needs, and I can’t do it all myself.’ It was nice for our students to have some exposure to the needs of older adults and what they can do to give back to improve their quality of life,” said Kate Wilson, team coordinator for the Jackson Student Leadership Council. 

This experience was more than just a fun day off of school for these teens. Volunteering for BASTAS exposed these students to challenges they had not considered before and, more importantly, inspired them to reach out to older adults in their own lives. 

“Some older adults, they can get so lonely. They don’t have anybody to talk to, and it’s hard for them to communicate with people. So, things like Be A Santa will make their day (or their holiday) because they know someone cares about them, and they feel less alone,” said Rogers. “It made me think more about my grandparents. After volunteering for Be A Santa, I actually reached out to them just because I hadn’t checked in on them in a little while.”

“I think Be A Santa makes a huge impact on not only the seniors that you’re shopping for, but also the people who are buying the gifts. Because on these ornaments, people are not just asking for toys and stuff. They’re asking for their needs like lotion, kitchen appliances and towels. I think it’s really an eye-opening experience, too,” said McKinney. 

BASTAS not only exposed the teens to the challenges of growing older, but also encouraged them to learn from older adults. Their conversations and connections helped them better understand what it means to age and live well.  

“I love the dynamic of pairing older adults with teens. Volunteering at the Council on Aging helped students see the challenges older adults face, and also gave them an opportunity to interact with, learn from and appreciate older adults in new ways. The older adults loved visiting with and passing on advice to the teens. They really enjoyed each other,” said Kipper Koslowsky, director of donor services for Athens Area Community Foundation, who helped plan the student project. 

“The general value of Be A Santa to a Senior is to provide Christmas gifts to people who may or may not have family to visit or a place to go, but I think the larger impact is just knowing that that need exists. There are probably some aspects of that need in their [the students’] own lives and it’s important for them to know that they can make an impact just with their time,” said Wilson.

Although they only spent a few hours with ACCA, helping with BASTAS left a lasting impact on the student leadership team.

“This is something I will never forget. It was amazing!” said Rogers.

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