What makes an 18 year-old German with a penchant for physics want to cross an ocean to volunteer with the elderly here at Little Brothers? “I thought it would be interesting to see another part of the world,” said Philip Detje, one of three new International Interns from the service organization, World Horizons. His interactions with elderly residents at the retirement home where his mother worked in Germany were more rewarding than he ever expected. “One older woman I talked to was really, really nice but she had severe dementia. Her memory was reset every three minutes or so, but I could also see that she was happy—really comfortable there.” So when the opportunity arose to volunteer with the elderly here in the U.P., he explained with a smile, “I could imagine doing that for a year.”
We have three international interns from Germany, and hope to introduce each of them to you throughout the year. Their primary role is t o reduce the loneliness of our homebound elderly—visiting as many as 35 elders every month. They help with chores, medical appointments, and shopping but their main “job” is simply to be a friend—to provide that human contact so many of our elders both lack and long for.
Philip’s outreach is primarily in Ontonagon County, where he’s seeing a side of American life that does not get showcased in tourist pamphlets—aging, home-bound seniors living in houses that have become too much for them. One of the elderly women Philip visits is a retired nurse who has severe health problems, including difficulty swallowing; frail and now weighing less than 95 pounds, she can barely teeter through the tunnels of clutter in her home. Like many of our elderly friends, she has difficulty letting go of belongings, and years of accumulation have created trip hazards and an overwhelming mess. Living alone with no family nearby, Philip and other Little Brothers visitors provide her with much-needed contact including friendly visits several times per month with additional phone calls to check up on her between visits.
Philip also visits a man in Mass City who struggles with depression—and the bottle. Though he has relatives nearby, he is estranged from them—a wife who is now an ex, a son who never visits. One of Philip’s first lessons was that to have a meaningful encounter, he needed to come in the morning; by afternoon his elderly friend is just too far gone with alcohol. Sadly, the drinking has driven many of his loved ones and friends away, making him even more isolated and in need.
Though reaching out to someone in the grip of depression is not easy, it is essential. Philip, along with many of our home visitors, work hard to find that special thing that can trigger a memory, spark a story, whether it be a favorite photo of a granddaughter’s graduation or a beloved pet. Lending an ear and listening attentively—for what is both said and what goes unspoken—is part of our mission here at Little Brothers.