This week we are thrilled to feature Kathryn Blanco as our guest blogger. Kathryn, a senior at Lauralton Hall, is a spring intern with Volunteer Square. Each intern is required to complete a group peer project as part of their internship and to submit a reflection piece to be featured on our blog. The Volunteer Square interns have dedicated themselves to serving our organization and their own communities. We are so proud of their work and thank them for giving back.
When I started the Volunteer Square Internship, the portion of my responsibilities I was most nervous about was the peer group project. While I love the town I live in, Newtown does not have the population, resources, or communication capacity of a more metropolitan area. There are plenty of organizations present in Newtown doing good work – which I have been learning about through management of the Newtown town page – but such organizations rarely recruit outside volunteers on a wide scale. This made working with an organization I was not a part of a challenge – but one I was ultimately glad to have faced. Especially as my own grandparents are growing older and facing new daily challenges, I see the importance of accommodations for senior citizens in everyday life. Because of that, I reached out to Friends of Newtown Seniors and was able to be useful to them. This organization is trying to bring Newtown up to AARP’s Livable Communities standards, and my project is to design and distribute a survey that helps identify the areas that most need change by asking senior citizens in Newtown about their quality of life and awareness of access to certain services.
As someone who’s not entirely comfortable reaching out to and taking charge of groups of people, I thought my initial challenge going in would be getting together the peer portion of the peer group project. However, once I reached out I found my friends to be surprisingly accommodating and willing to help out. My bigger problem, as it turned out, was logistics – specifically, timing. I waited to determine in-person locations to distribute the survey until after I had finished it and was ready to set a date – only to find that nearly all of the locations I had been considering would not allow survey distribution, something I ought to have considered before.
Additionally, from the first emails I sent out to organizations other than Friends of Newtown Seniors looking for a project to communication with one final potential location, I’ve had to deal with email responses that took weeks or, sometimes, never came. I’ve certainly been guilty of letting emails linger myself, but somehow I failed to account for long response times from other people. Conducting a project like this requires me to not only see things from my end. Just because I’ve sent my own emails out doesn’t mean that certain portion of the project will be finished. I’ve also encountered people used to entirely different forms of communication. When it comes to projects, I’m used to operating in pictures, group chat texts, and emails. But many people I’ve worked with through Friends of Newtown Seniors operate on hard copies and in-person meetings. I’ve had to adjust my methods and expectations when it comes to communicating with others, and this grown in the process.
Of course, communication is not the only thing I’ve learned about over the course of this project. Speaking of seeing a situation from the perspective of others, there were so many factors that contribute to the quality of life for senior citizens that I had never before considered. The immense challenges of living in a rural area with few sidewalks or pedestrian-accessible locations became clearer to me when I examined the qualities of a Livable Community Newtown lacked. Services like transportation to local events or a hotline for senior abuse would never have occurred to me. Putting together this survey opened my eyes to problems senior citizens face and made me more invested in the cause of seniors in Newtown than I was when I started.
The survey project is a work in progress. The Survey Monkey version is up and collecting responses, and I am in the midst of planning out in-person locations to distribute paper copies. There are still challenges to work out – from the length of the survey itself to providing refreshments for volunteers. But it is a challenge I am eager to continue to face and a project I am determined to see to completion.
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