By Katie Christensen
Event Coordinator, Lasallian Volunteers
and Bryana Polk
Assistant Occupancy Clerk, Lasallian Volunteers
Serviam Gardens is a fairly new and affordable senior housing development in the Bronx, NY, housing more than 300 residents in 243 units. The demographic make-up of Serviam Gardens makes this property extremely unique. A majority of the residents are Hispanic (Dominican and Puerto Rican), Korean, and Black (Caribbean, African American, and African). The residents from this senior housing come from all walks of life. The socioeconomic backgrounds range from doctors, teachers, artists, musicians, and scientists. Though many of the seniors live alone, a handful of them live with a spouse/significant other, a child, or a sibling.
Serviam Gardens provides subsidized housing for the residents, and also many amenities and services. The property is gated with 24 hour security protection. Serviam is composed of three buildings and each one includes a laundry facility and a special recreational area. The property has a library, theatre, gym, game room, community spaces, computer lab, picnic area, garden, and access to a green roof. The social services department provides classes, health presentations, free tax preparations, and recreational trips for the seniors. They can also receive help with immigration, citizenship, and SNAP benefits. The management department offers assistance with completing necessary paperwork for their subsidized housing. Services for senior citizens at Serviam Gardens are limitless.
Katie Christensen, Event Coordinator, Second Year Lasallian Volunteer
Moving from Denver, Colorado, to the Bronx in New York took a huge leap of faith and a lot of courage. Working with senior citizens was not new to me but it also was not something I had a great deal of experience with. Add-in doing social work after majoring in International Affairs and I was obviously out of my league.
It became a sink or swim situation. Coming from a smaller city, going from the majority to the minority, and working with a population that is significantly older than me, I started to see things differently. The older populations become vulnerable as they age. Times change and speed up as they start to slow down. Technology changes, documentation begins to get harder to understand, and transportation is not as easy anymore.
It is entertaining to watch a group of 65-year-olds, or older, learn to operate a cell phone. Not everything is translated, making things very difficult for a group of people that mostly speak Spanish and Korean.
I have realized in doing this work that I am very privileged and blessed. I am in good health, grew up in a technologically advanced time, and have all of the opportunities in the world to learn new languages and skill-sets. A lot of the seniors I work with have very few family members alive or living near them. I have a ton of friends and family. From the people I work with and live with to all of my family back home in Colorado, the amount of love and support I am given is immeasurable.
I am also privileged in being able to work with seniors because they have so much wisdom and knowledge to share. I gain so much growth in numerous ways by hearing the stories and experiences they share with me. They want me to succeed. They want what is best for me, and because of them I can truly say I am a better person. Moving across the country was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
The idea that I would be working with senior citizens never crossed my mind when I applied to Lasallian Volunteers. A year and a half into my service at Serviam Gardens, I couldn’t see myself elsewhere or working with any other population. I’ve learned a lot of things being in the company of the seniors; some of those lessons came from conversations or by simply observing them.
While many of the seniors at Serviam are completely mobile and independent, a fair portion of them aren’t self-sufficient. Some have home health aides (HHA) who assist them with daily tasks, but it can be a tricky process in receiving one. It’s unfortunate to see some of the seniors who really do need the assistance not be granted or br eligible for that help. As mundane as the topic of HHA can be to us who don’t need that kind of service, it’s a major privilege for the elderly. Not everyone can get it. I’m fortunate to have the choice to take care of myself without aid; I’m not necessarily dependent on someone.
More important than HHA services, a privilege I have that some of the residents don’t have here is close family and friends, and the realization of that is tea- jerking. There are people here who don’t have families that stay near; or maybe they do, but they don’t visit often. Some of them spend their time in their apartment alone; witnessing that makes me want to create lasting relationships, be considered reliable to others, and maintain the solid relationships that I already have with my own friends and family.
Knowing this makes me want to confidently feel that I am loved and cared about by someone. That I can love and care about someone without any reservations. The spectrum of residents here is truly vast. There are residents who can’t keep people out of their apartment, always have children, spouses, and grandchildren at their home; or they visit their children and grandchildren. Then there are cases of the polar opposite. Those residents don’t seem to emit as much internal happiness or joy. This by far is an example of privilege that stands out to me here.
Working with the seniors at Serviam has been challenging at moments, but it’s an absolute blessing to be here. Compared to other Lasallian Volunteers who work with populations who are just embarking into life, Katie and I are able to see how decisions and consequences from the earlier years have impacted lives in the later years, good or bad. It makes me think about how I want my life to be and how I can start or change some things to make sure that I can look back on my life when I’m 70 and feel no regrets or loneliness—only abundant joy and contentment.
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