Inspiration Report

Guest Post by Rona Cherry

It was a Sunday afternoon in July, a perfect day to be outdoors. Instead, 25 volunteers had chosen to participate in an Afternoon of Pampering for residents of a 520-bed nursing home and rehabilitation facility in New York.

Applying makeup.jpegThe event was the brainchild of one of my former neighbors, Valerie Bennis. Her idea: to treat the elderly residents to facials, manicures, makeup and hair styling while they listened to relaxing music and drank herbal beverages. She had called the nursing home to propose her idea, then met with management to discuss it. All products, services, and time, she told them, would be donated.

It took a month of organizing donations and coordinating volunteers, but that afternoon the nursing home was transformed into a spa–with eight manicure stations, eight facial tables, and makeup and hairstyling areas. Residents started lining up in their wheelchairs an hour before the scheduled opening. Soon all you could hear were volunteers calling, “Anyone want their hair done?” “Manicure? Who’s ready for a manicure?”

Lovely nails.jpegMy job that afternoon was as the herbal-beverage bartender. As I walked around the room topping off drinks, I overheard snippets of conversation. “You look so beautiful, now all you need to do is win the lottery,” one volunteer said to an elderly woman, who was smiling in her fresh makeup. Said another: “Of course, we all need these little lifts, Mabel, it’s not easy getting through the weeks if we don’t feel good about ourselves.”

It was clear that the men and women loved being taken care of, and they loved being touched. (We often forget how the elderly can be starved for affectionate physical contact.) “I love you,” one resident said, kissing the volunteer who had been gently massaging her hands.

In the end, what made the day so memorable was not the fact that some 80 men and women received spa treatments. Rather, that Valerie and her team had made the day happen, and made the residents feel special. A word of encouragement can often be like throwing someone a life line.

“There’s nothing more important than connecting with people,” said Valerie, founder of Essence of Vali, a company that creates health and wellness products with plant essences.   

As for the volunteers, we all left feeling connected–to the residents and to one another. We felt community and connection and purpose. And on that Sunday afternoon, I felt reassured that the many lovely qualities that humans possess–caring and courtesy, among them–are always present, always accessible, at any moment when we orient our hearts toward kindness, compassion, service, and love.

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