Oakwood Volunteers Give and Receive

Multi-colored yarn balls on a table

In June of 2004, when Glenda Sweet responded to an ad seeking volunteers at Oakwood Village, she had no idea that she would still be coming to the University Woods campus nearly 15 years later.

“I saw an ad Oakwood listed with the United Way. They needed volunteers to help with art therapy for residents in memory care,” Glenda recalls. “At that time, I was just tentatively looking for volunteer opportunities because I needed to do something.”

Glenda had lost her husband, and her aging father was caring for her mother, who was developing dementia.

“My mother and father were in Arizona, and I was frustrated because I was at such a distance.

I hoped I could learn something at Oakwood that I could pass along to my dad who was my mother’s faithful caregiver. But I never expected to have the other rewards of being there and meeting people. Interacting with Oakwood residents became the joy of my life.”

Glenda volunteers each week as an art therapy assistant for memory care residents. She’s also involved with a weekly knitting group.

“I just love it. I really enjoy getting to know residents. It’s wonderful.”

A senior woman sitting in chair with knitting piece in hand

Interacting with Oakwood residents became the joy of my life.

The success of many programs at Oakwood is only possible thanks to committed volunteers, says Kim Viney, Oakwood Village University Woods Volunteer Services Coordinator.

“Volunteers are a valuable human resource for us like our employees are,” Kim says. ”Volunteers do things that benefit residents in many different ways. And not all volunteer roles involve working directly with residents.”

Volunteer opportunities range from working in the campus store to bringing in a pet for regular visits with residents.

“We also need people to help get residents in our health care programs to monthly events,” Kim says. “We can always use help from volunteer drivers who use their own vehicles to take people to appointments in the community. And we love to have musicians volunteer to play on occasion.”

Dick Steinhofer, an 82-year-old City of Madison retiree, says he gets a lot of satisfaction from volunteering. Dick has been a devoted volunteer for more than eight years. He now schedules all of the volunteer drivers for University Woods campus residents.

“People make a request for a ride seven days prior to their appointment, and I schedule the drivers. I have about 13 drivers. Most live at Oakwood. We get about 11 requests for rides per week.

Mary Peck, who has served as Volunteer Services Coordinator on the Prairie Ridge campus since 2016, and recently announced her plans to retire, says there is a wide range of opportunities for community members and residents to get involved. Requests for volunteer help come from all areas of campus.

When there are extremely popular programs, staff members will put out a call for additional volunteers to take people to the event or assist with the program itself. The chaplain may ask for people to usher or sing in the choir. There are sometimes requests for volunteer help with gardening.

Mary notes that many people are regular volunteers.

“We have a person who comes to show Thursday night movies,” Mary says. “She’s been doing that for a very long time. There are also ‘behind-the-scenes’ volunteers. Lots of residents help with mail distribution or the Oaktree newsletter. When people move in, they want to be involved as volunteers. We encourage opportunities for people whenever there is a need.”

While there are countless volunteer opportunities for residents, many volunteers from the Madison community get involved through their churches or through friends who are residents. Others live nearby or simply have an interest in working with older individuals.

Shruthie Kuttigadde, who moved to Madison from India, lives near the Prairie Ridge campus with her husband. She volunteers in the salon and as a cashier in the Village Mercantile three or four times per week.

Shruthie, a 26-year-old engineer, is unable to work currently under the conditions of her visa, so she sought out ways to get involved in the community. She says she’s grateful for the opportunity to volunteer on the Prairie Ridge campus.

“If anyone asked me about volunteering at Oakwood, I would say definitely they should do it. I have been there over a year and everybody is so friendly. Even though my accent is different, nobody complains about it. They are so welcoming and accepting of me. One resident is even teaching me how to quilt!”

Longtime volunteer Jan Harold says she likes the idea of younger people and new residents volunteering.

“I enjoy interacting with residents. I’m part of the older generation now, too. But a couple of people who volunteer with me are pushing 90!”

Jan, who turned 79 earlier this year, says volunteering keeps her young. With nearly 18 years of volunteer service, few have volunteered at Oakwood longer than Jan.

“My aunt and uncle were among the first residents who moved to the Prairie Ridge campus in 2001. We went to visit them and I saw a newsletter on their coffee table and read they had volunteer opportunities at the Village Mercantile. I thought that would be a way to get me over here to visit them,” she says.

A senior woman and a lady looking at clipboard together in front of shelves filled with snacks
Volunteer Services Coordinator Mary Peck works with volunteer Shruthie Kuttigadde in the Village Mercantile

Jan encourages others to find opportunities to give of their time and talent at Oakwood. Recently, she encouraged a friend to get involved.

“She lost her husband, and now that she lives in an apartment, she misses working in the yard. I encouraged her to come help the horticulturalist or help residents who have gardens. It’s fun! There’s something about it that makes you feel good doing something with and for other people. It keeps me going. It keeps my mind fresh!”

No matter the role, volunteers are helping older adults by doing something to impact their lives. And they are gaining something in the process.

Shelley Caw volunteers with art therapy for assisted living residents at the University Woods campus.

“Residents will say, ‘I can’t do art!’ And I tell them I can’t either! It’s really about building community and connecting with a creativity you don’t know you have.”

A senior woman smiling in front of shelves with supplies
Jan Harold has been volunteering on the Prairie Ridge campus for nearly 18 years.

The 52-year-old Madison resident says she finds the experience gratifying.

“The people who live at Oakwood are so great. While we paint or draw, people start telling stories, and there’s a richness where people are telling stories and sharing memories. When your hands are busy with creativity it opens you up to conversation. I’m the one who actually gets the therapy from listening to all of that.”

Shelley finds it so meaningful, she has been assisting for nearly seven years.

“At Oakwood, you go as a volunteer to give something. But you get something so precious in return.”

For more information about opportunities to volunteer at Oakwood Village, contact: University Woods Volunteer Services Coordinator Kim Viney at kim.viney@oakwoodvillage.net or Prairie Ridge Volunteer Services Coordinator Cara Manning at cara.manning@oakwoodvillage.net or visit our Volunteer Page.

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