When Linda Holloway’s grandmother, Bessie, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Holloway visited her Texas nursing home every month. And while she was able to provide companionship and support, she couldn’t help but notice that a majority of the patients often sat alone.
What’s even worse, says Holloway, is that nursing home staff did little to combat the painful cycle of seclusion, and oftentimes even encouraged it. Patients were urged to limit outside visitations, because seeing friends and family members "would just confuse them."
The lack of community inspired Holloway to take action, and together with friends Sharron Brandrup and Marge Utne she created an organization to address this issue. Founded in 1993, Bessie’s Hope now arranges visits for more than 3,800 nursing home and assisted living patients each year in the Denver metro area. And the feel-good effects of the program extend beyond the elderly community, as the majority of Bessie’s Hope volunteers are “at-risk” youth, or children exposed to a life of drugs, abuse, gangs, and violence.
Once the young volunteers are matched with elderly counterparts, frequent visits and planned activities help cultivate relationships between the generations. According to Holloway, over 90 percent of the at-risk youth who participate with Bessie’s Hope experience increased self-esteem and exhibit more compassionate and caring behavior. “I’ve witnessed a ripple effect in these kids,” Holloway says. “Their time spent with the elders makes a difference in all aspects of their lives.”
The goodwill practiced by Bessie’s Hope proves contagious, as the organization is now active in 45 Colorado nursing homes and assisted living facilities and incorporates families, businesses, and community member as volunteers. There’s even an affiliate program in Germany. Holloway likes to think of the many young and old lives impacted in terms of the sunrise and sunset. “They’re both equally beautiful and equally needed,” she says.
Get Involved: Bessie’s Hope hosts its annual Intergenerational Bowl-A-Thon on Saturday, October 27 at four local bowling alleys. Bowlers collect pledges and teams of four participate for group and individual awards. All ages and skill levels welcome. Register by October 1. Visit Bessieshope.org or call 303-830-9037.
—Image courtesy of Linda Holloway