It takes a village to support our elders, too

How many times over the past years have you heard, “It takes a village to raise a child”? And we know it’s true and it works, especially on Vashon with its caring and inclusive environment. But did you know that the same village is needed to care for our elders and that essentially the same ratio of caregivers is required for both ends of the age spectrum?

Our village, Vashon, was built over many years with labor and love. The community that was created in the past has been passed on to my generation, but many of those people instrumental in forming this Island community are still Island residents now living at Vashon Community Care Center (VCCC).

Whether they worked on or off Island, as school custodians, bus drivers, postmistresses or drug store clerks, these residents poured their energy into our Island home. Now, however, these residents live outside of the delightful community they helped to create, away from the energy and daily life of our town.

While the VCCC staff works energetically to include their residents in Island life, state budget reductions have hit the facility hard, resulting in staff reductions that stretch these caring and hardworking nurses, resident assistants and support staff much too far. Daily skilled staff have been pulled into the dining rooms waitressing when they may be urgently needed to attend to medications, emergencies and the many other skilled tasks they are trained to do.

Volunteers are always needed at VCCC, but sometimes Islanders have a difficult time figuring out where they can fit in, how much time is required or what skills are needed. When I decided to volunteer, I knew I had no medical skills and that these were tasks I could not do. But I knew I could contribute an old, never forgotten skill — waitressing — and work in the dining room, sending the skilled staff back to the floor and to more important tasks.

With my cousin Heidi Richards, who also had waitressed in the past, we have taken over two dinner shifts a week. These two-hour shifts have been a pleasure for us, enriching in so many ways, and, we hope, for the residents as well.

Thus an idea was formed. Who hasn’t in the past put themselves through high school, college or a rough patch by waitressing? These are service skills one never forgets and, like bike riding, come back with no effort! Our goal is to form a sub-committee of volunteers dedicated to covering each of the seven nightly dinners in assisted living each week, thereby sending critical care staff back to the floor.

Two volunteers are needed per dinner, and the time commitment is minimal — averaging about two hours per shift from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Floor training for waitressing will be provided by the current volunteers, and, while VCCC requires a state-mandated training of all volunteers, this constitutes a two-hour session that is both informative and fun. People wanting to gain some experience in food service before entering the paid work force are welcome as well — and we’ll train you!

Your volunteer hours at VCCC will not only contribute needed services to the facility and count towards the volunteer hours the facility submits to the state, but volunteers can also contribute their hours to the Community Wellness Project, which provides reduced-cost health services to those in need. Volunteers qualifying for the Community Wellness Project can themselves use their hours toward their own health services.

So, former waitresses, waiters, other food service workers and anyone who is interested in serving the community and participating in the VCCC food service project, dust off your aprons (actually these are provided), warm up your smiles and join us. Because it does take a village.

­— Christine Beck is a longtime Islander.

To volunteer

Those interested in participating in the VCCC food service project should contact Naomi Goldick at 567-4421 or Naomi.Goldick@providence.org. Or contact Christine Beck at (206) 660-4635 or cdbeck@yahoo.com.

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