OLEAN, NY – Because patients at Olean General Hospital cannot always celebrate Christmas at home, student volunteers from St. Bonaventure University and residents of the Pines Healthcare & Rehab Center have been working together since September to bring a bit of holiday spirit to them.
On Friday, Jaya Manjunath, a junior biology major at SBU, plans to drive to the hospital to drop off approximately 75 cards made by members of the university’s student organization Seniors With Skills that she founded at the start of the semester. OGH volunteers will distribute them to patients as the holiday approaches.
Another 50 cards have already been given to patients at the Pines by those students members of Seniors With Skills who have gathered with residents every Saturday this semester.
Normally, 30 students attend those Saturday card crafting and visiting sessions; Manjunath estimates the Seniors with Skills Olean chapter has about 40 members.
"We are showing seniors that they can still be active members of the community,” Manjunath said. “It is common for seniors to feel isolated in retirement residences, and this is a great way for them to meet students while making a difference.”
Manjunath, whose hometown is Toronto, plans to recruit more members of the community, including high school students, as volunteers with Seniors with Skills. She began her volunteering in Olean as a coordinator for Silver Wolves, a university club which visits Eden Heights of Olean Assisted Living & Memory Care regularly. When Manjunath, who had been president of Silver Wolves, realized the existence of large numbers of volunteers interested in helping seniors (in both Olean and Ontario), she decided to form nonprofits in both countries in order to reach more retirement residences and began with a small program in Toronto.
Seniors with Skills reaches across two nations and two states, with volunteers in more than 30 retirement facilities who focus on two programs. One is cards and knitting; the other is computer lessons.
Manjunath points out that Seniors With Skills "has chapters all over. We are in Olean, Rochester, Buffalo, Toronto, Boston, and now people in London (Ontario) and California are contacting me.”
In Ontario, Seniors with Skills receives a 10-cent donation from Thoughtfully Handmade, a Toronto company, for every card made; the money is used for supplies and to expand to more retirement residences, Manjunath said. In addition to cards, the Toronto chapter has made some 50 knitted caps and 25 teddy bears.
And in November, the Olean chapter of Seniors with Skills received a $1,000 grant from the Cattaraugus County Foundation, which it will use to launch a computer program in the area within the next few months.
Brady Nicosia, a sophomore biology major at SBU, is a Seniors with Skills volunteer, helps Manjunath match students and other volunteers with the senior residential homes. Nicosia said the group can expand to other residences within Olean and multiple communities if they get more volunteers.
“I always did service in high school, and this is a way for me to continue that into college,” Nicosia said.
Manjunath noted, “A lot of the seniors in the Olean retirement residences are St. Bonaventure graduates, so it is a great way to connect with them."
She added, "Getting to know seniors is a benefit. They have so much knowledge and wisdom to share.”
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