Katie Bigelow’s story all began with the need for a convenient volunteer opportunity in order to fulfill a volunteer requirement. As a high school sophomore, Katie was recommended by her mother to volunteer at a senior living facility less than two miles away from her house. Although she was extremely hesitant and had many setbacks about reaching out to senior citizens, in addition to the awkwardness of volunteering alone, she finally reached an agreement to set up a meeting with the activity director at the senior living facility. To her surprise, this concept was new to the senior facility, as well as the fact that they had only one other volunteer there at the time. Eventually, she had started her first volunteer gig alongside some of her friends at Mustang Creek Estates.
The activity director helped them assimilate to the new environment, and over time, they improved their overall social skills through establishing strong communication skills, recognizing important ques, deepening their understanding of the importance of comfort as well as the influence on eye contact.
This simple venture she began had developed into a true passion. Throughout her experience, she recognized the relationships she had built with the diverse residents at the facility. She looked forward to her experiences with them and recognized how thrilled the residents became when a young person would accompany and assist them.
The turning point in her volunteering experience was when she was handing out mail after an event with the activity director and a friend. Although the activity director had mentioned to her that those receiving letters loved it, sadly, not all of them were given mail. To combat this issue, Katie decided to reach out to more students and formed a pen pal program at her school with the intention of volunteering on weekends. Katie wanted to share her love of giving back and knew she wanted to spread awareness about the club so that others could experience the joy of volunteering and giving back to the senior population.
The response from the students at the school was immediate and positive. She knew working together to create positive experiences for the residents at the senior living facility would have a large impact not only on the senior citizens but also on the volunteers who would experience the joy of serving others. They chose Mustang Creek Estates as their first location, hence the first chapter of “Joining Generations” was born.
After some trial and error, Katie and her fellow students were able to formulate an initiative of what they wanted this organization to be. Instead of being bound to the activities they had previously done with the residents, the club members agreed to formulate new ideas on the premise of improving the interactions and genuine relationships with the residents, including bringing crafts, making gift boxes, and baking for the residents. The organization developed internally and volunteers continually began to partake in the various activities planned with the residents, but Katie wanted to expand even more.
Two years and many epiphanies later, Katie realized that the organization’s true potential could reach much further than her initial intentions. She wanted to spread the program throughout schools and other outreach organizations. She began meeting with various individuals who had experience and were able to help give her basic volunteer program more structure.
Though the journey has been long, for Katie, the destination is worth it. Although not every senior living facility or every senior citizen currently has the opportunity to interact with people of younger generations, Katie wholeheartedly believes that “Joining Generations” is on the right track and has the potential to become something the world will benefit from.
Check out this recent podcast to hear the founder discuss what’s behind her creation of Joining Generations, lessons learned, and future plans.
Our first year, my friend and I were interviewed by a news station about this initiative. They asked me where I see us in the future and I told them that I planned to introduce this program into other schools and would eventually expand outside of Texas. As I said those words, my friend nor I believed that was possible… Things have changed since then.