I grew up across the street from my elderly great-grandparents. Each Sunday while walking home from church, my parents “highly encouraged” my brother and me stop and visit them – a ritual we began as children and continued until they passed away when we were in high school. I recall we weren’t always thrilled with the obligation, but once there we were always enthralled with their stories, wise advice and anecdotes. As we’ve grown older ourselves, my brother and I have come to realize that the visits we naively believed were a nicety on our part were actually the most wonderful gifts our great-grandparents could have ever given to us. Searching for a December topic, my interest was piqued upon learning of an elder care organization that found its beginnings when a 12-year-old Hanan Rimawi reluctantly tagged along with a friend to visit Our Lady of Wisdom nursing home residents. While there she formed an immediate connection upon meeting an effervescent couple, Mr. Bobby and Ms. Lorraine. As the visit ended, they asked Rimawi when she’d return and – while admitting it may seem surprising – she knew she’d stumbled upon a calling that would later inspire her to form Bridging Generations.
In the period between this first encounter and becoming a student at Tulane University, Rimawi remained a frequent visitor at Our Lady of Wisdom. She recognized how her experience working with the elderly brought abundant joys (alongside some challenges), and thought it important to engage more students to promote inter-generational friendships and provide an outlet to encourage empathy, instead of avoidance and cynicism on subjects such as illness and old age. Without an elderly outreach project at Tulane filling that need, Rimawi and her friends secured funding from the Tulane Center for Public Service and founded Bridging Generations.
Now beginning its fourth year visiting five facilities (Our Lady of Wisdom, Lambeth House, Poydras Home, Unity Nursing & Rehabilitation Center and St. Margaret’s) Bridging Generations’ 20 devoted student volunteers have touched the lives of over 150 local elderly during their Saturday visits. Bridging Generations volunteers offer activities that cultivate relationships with nursing home residents and enhance the existing facility’s programs. There are socials, jewelry making, bingo, music, reading and even armchair travel excursions on Google earth. One of the more powerful initiatives is led by Tulane graduate student Allison Barnwell, who sketches portraits of residents they may hang in their rooms or give to loved ones. Residents treasure the artwork but also the individual attention received throughout the process – a commodity often hard to come by for the elderly. Although Rimawi will graduate next spring, she’s confident Bridging Generations has a bright future with the current passionate volunteers and their commitment to expanding the volunteer base and reach of the organization.
Rimawi professes that companionship and just having someone to chat with is the simple but most valuable service Bridging Generations volunteers provides. Our Lady of Wisdom resident Alice Cangelosi shared that “Unselfishness and kindness are the most important to me. Knowing Rimawi through Bridging Generations has really brightened my life because she has an unlimited supply of both.” You can’t hold them in your hands but the tangible results of happiness and friendship Bridging Generations gives New Orleans elders and the volunteers is certainly better than any gift wrapped up with a shiny bow.
A little more …
In spring 2016, Tulane’s Center for Public Service awarded Hanan Rimawi The Jena Hellman Leblang Emerging Leader in Service Award, which was established to recognize the work of one undergraduate student who is following in Mrs. Leblang’s path by bringing smiles to the faces of those who need it.