Suffield by the River volunteers embrace relationships

By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Suffield - posted Thu., Mar. 28, 2013
Suffield by the River: River's Watch Recreation Director Karen Frawley alongside volunteer Siena Picchioni. Photo by Colin Rajala. - Contributed Photo

When people think about retirement and assisted living facilities, they often picture a monotonous and dreary place, but Suffield by the River is about as far from that stereotype as you can get - with its energetic residents, passionate staff and plush facilities. Alongside the residents and staff members are a robust group of individuals who volunteer their time and services to Suffield by the River, spending a great deal of time with individuals living in the facility whether it be teaching them something new or just being there to talk to them.

“We see people come in and feel like their life is being turned upside down,” said Assistant Executive Director Jacob Donnelly. “We provide a setting where it settles every one down, and volunteers are a major aspect of that. They’ve seen people come and go; they’ve seen everything. Each resident is older and wise and our volunteers evoke history and stories from our guests. You can see the enthusiasm from the residents; they love for people to come in because they will tell them stories, but they also love to hear other people’s stories.”

Suffield by the River does not like to limit its volunteer opportunities and believes that everyone can bring something unique and special to its residents, whether it be visiting and working several hours once a week or stopping in once a month. The retirement and assisted living facility prides itself on its adaptability and capacity to make anything possible for residents and volunteers.

Many of Suffield by the River’s residents, aged 71 to 98, enjoy being challenged mentally which is why the facility offers classes and seminars like the memoir writing class currently being held once a week with retired educator and volunteer Gloria Roy. The class aims to help people write down their stories before they are lost in translation while showing them the ins and outs to successful storytelling. Other popular classes include astronomy, which has recently focused on the topics of cloud formations and moon phases.

Suffield by the River’s  ‘River’s Watch,’ a specialty care wing for residents who require more assistance due to either physical constraints or memory impairment, also features a large group of volunteers who have more uniform and specific roles. Volunteers at Rivers Watch come in multiple days during the week to visit with residents as well as take them for walks within the building, giving them a chance to explore and meet new people and take in the beautiful surroundings.

“The residents really light up when they see them; they see our faces every day, but the volunteers are a fresh new face, the volunteers really enhance their day,” said Karen Frawley, Rivers Watch recreation d. “It’s such a family atmosphere here, the residents feel like we are their family and we try to make them feel at home. Volunteers come in and it almost brings residents' memory back to the time where they had children, they remind residents of their children and grandchildren. The volunteers are a huge asset because they allow residents to have more personal one-on-one time.”

The time Rivers Watch volunteers spend with residents is not just limited to walking and talking; the volunteers keep them busy assisting with a variety of activities like crosswords puzzles, word scrambles, bingo and even karaoke. The fun does not stop there for volunteers, though, as they also get to sing and dance with the residents at the many weekly entertainment events as well as the monthly and holiday parties. Volunteers also assist residents with arts and crafts which are made to be given to family members or used as holiday decorations.

Volunteer Siena Picchioni heard about the volunteer opportunity at Rivers Watch through her grandmother’s friend. Picchioni considers herself to be a kind hearted person who is compassionate and a very good listener, finding solace working with the residents who are in need of more assistance. She noted that she likes to be there for support and comfort during such trying times for some, adding that she has worked with Suffield by the River’s Rivers Watch for two years and could not imagine her life without the residents profound effect on it.

“It’s an incredible feeling when you’re talking to someone that is 60 or more years older than you and you are connecting with them,” Picchioni said. “You see them when they are upset but it does not bring you down; you help them understand you feel for them while encouraging them to carry on. My grandmother was a nurse, my mother was a nurse, I have nursing in my blood and there is nothing I would want more than to help here. I love this place; I wish I could live her 24/7 to be with the residents.”

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