Linwood, NJ / July 4, 2019 / The Current — Many of the new friends Juliana Lubeck and Isabelle Vandenberg have made are roughly six times their age, but it doesn’t seem to faze them.
Lubeck, an incoming freshman and Vandenberg, a soon-to-be sophomore at Mainland, are both 14, yet seasoned volunteers at Brandywine Living at Brandall Estates in Linwood.
The girls came to visit family friend Clem Camp shortly after she became a resident at Brandall Estates.
“We enjoyed helping with games and (Brandall Escapades Director) Amber Mansfield asked if we would like to volunteer and help out,” said Lubeck. “That was about three years ago, and we have been coming ever since. I really enjoy coming here and visiting with the residents, listening to their stories, seeing them smile, playing games and helping serve at events and showing them how to use their iPad or their phone.” Lubeck also said it is a good feeling to know she can do something that is helping someone have a better day and added, “That’s pretty special.”
Vandenberg is equally happy to be a Brandall volunteer. “I like coming here and helping people, and I like the big smiles I see when we come in. I think they like having some young people around. We get to do a lot of things, like play RummyKub, help with bingo and serve ice cream sundaes, but we also get to visit with residents, and that is really nice. I feel like we might brighten their day,” Vandenberg said.
Mansfield said, “The residents really look forward to seeing our girls. They even ask when they would be coming in. Once our volunteer and our residents get comfortable with each other, they want to be around each other more often.”
Brandall Estates residents were quick to weigh-in on the young volunteers. Resident Joan Adams said, “It impresses me that they want to come. Isabelle and Juliana are special because a lot of kids their age couldn’t be bothered to volunteer with older people.”
Maggie Smith is a longtime community volunteer as well as a resident and said, “I think it’s great. The younger they start volunteering, the more likely they are to make it a lifetime pursuit.”
Resident Irene Scavette remarked on personal time spent with Lubeck and Vandenberg: “Juliana and Isabelle helped several of us decorate our doors to our apartments last Christmas. We really appreciated their help, and it made us feel good to work with them. It started off our season of celebrating with a warm heart.”
On Friday afternoons, it’s happy hour, complete with snacks and entertainment, and the girls will often volunteer to help serve or find room for wheelchairs and walkers.
Resident Pat Hainley said, “I love seeing them when they come and help at our happy hour parties. They bring even more life to the party!”
They are not afraid of hard work either; last year they reorganized the entire library. “That meant a great deal to all of us. Most kids would not have taken the time to do that for us, but they did, and they did it with a smile,” resident Margaret Drewes said.
Resident Lee Paulding echoed those sentiments, saying, “I know they love helping people. They make us really happy, and everything they do, they do with a smile.”
Camp said, “I have known Juliana since she was born. She is a very giving person, and she and Isabelle both have a great deal of compassion for older people.”
Mansfield said the staff looks forward to the next visit from Lubeck and Vandenberg. “Our volunteers are a huge help to staff and residents. They have done so much ,and they pick up on new things very fast. We teach them as well as they teach us. From redirecting residents, transporting them into programs and even helping the residents out with the newest technology, our volunteers are always so helpful to everyone.”
Brandywine Living at Brandall Estates Executive Director Sherry Sullivan had only accolades for the center’s youngest volunteers. “The residents always get excited when they see both of them ride up to the front door on their bikes. They know ‘the girls’ are here. They are both respectful and polite and come in knowing that they are coming as guests to someone’s home.”
Sullivan said the girls are game to jump in and help, no matter what is asked of them, and their enthusiasm in turn gets the residents excited.
She shared a favorite memory, when the girls brought a pet rabbit in to show residents. “The residents really enjoyed that experience, and Isabelle and Juliana were very patient and spent a lot of time giving everyone a chance to hold and enjoy the rabbit,” Sullivan said. “Teens can receive many benefits from volunteering with older adults. Our residents are patient and kind, and as the teen volunteers interact with them, it helps them to develop their social skills and confidence in communicating with adults. It also gives the teens a chance to check their preconceived notions of older adults at the door. Seniors have gained a wealth of knowledge over their lifetimes, and when they interact with the volunteers, the lessons they impart are often still applicable today.
“I have watched both Juliana and Isabell grow from hesitant, young girls trying to figure out what they could do here and how they could make a difference, to beautiful, caring young women who do make a difference in the lives of our residents, each and every time they volunteer,” Sullivan said.
Asked if volunteering will fit into their busy high school schedule, both Lubeck and Vandenberg emphatically said, “absolutely.”