It’s Friday evening and we’re busy preparing a great Shabbat dinner for CSP residents and especially those who reside at Rose Schnitzer. The scent of matzo ball soup, oven-roasted chicken, and well seasoned vegetables is wafting around the kitchen as I plate chocolate cake and decorate it with raspberry sauce in the shape of a smiley face. As I’m walking out into the dining room, a tiny, bright eyed, and energetic woman stops me. I stop as well, and ask her if I can help her with anything. She introduces herself as Sonia Liberman and asks me as many questions as I am able to answer without falling behind in service. I seek out Sonia later that night after I have finished my serving duties. We have a wonderful conversation about my school, family, our shared connection to religion, and she offers to make me earrings.
My job at Rose Schnitzer Manor has given me a second home in the past year. I’ve worked as a server for about twenty hours a week since January, and worked full time during my extended summer. While working, my grandmother was battling ALS. This was both incredibly challenging and transformative but the experience of working at an assisted living community was my saving grace. ALS took my grandma’s life and experiencing her degeneration while seeing the same thing happening to some of the residents I loved at the Rose Schnitzer retirement home changed my perspective. Instead of seeing people who in some cases couldn’t get themselves out of bed or remember what their mother’s name was, I saw beautiful lives tarnished by a diagnosis like my grandma’s. This motivated me to treat all of the residents as how I would have liked my grandma to be treated.
Despite the hardships my family was experiencing at this time they still took time out of their day to talk to me about my job. The support system that I had at home inspired me to be a positive influence in my workplace and I was able to channel a lot of my sorrow into motivation to better the residents’ days.
In the spring, the dining room service moved to room service due to COVID. This change allowed me to have a clearer view into the lives of each resident because the culinary services became the primary department that interacted with the residents. Delivering food became my favorite part of the week and I made it my goal to put a smile on each resident’s face. It was challenging at times though. I would come into a room and the meals from the day before would still be sitting on their table. Other times, I would dance with a resident to Frank Sinatra, joke about them adopting me, and then pretend to catch a kiss they would blow through their mask. The residents were finding ways to persevere through this time of neglect and loneliness and it drove me to offer them all the love they deserved.
This job gave me an outlet; a place to share the compassion and love that I have inside and changed me for the better. Moments of humor and hope still give me as much satisfaction as they did seven months ago. I see the life that is still left in residents who are 90+ years old and I am inspired to become a better person because of it and accomplish as much in my life as they have in theirs. The community that I’ve been introduced to at Rose Schnitzer Manor has permanently influenced my perspective on the fragility of every human life.
I still visit with Sonia and ask her how she is doing. She sometimes visits the kitchen and brings us a basket filled with chocolate, thank-you cards, and comments about how the food is too salty or too bland. These interactions I continue to have with the residents keep me motivated and remind me of how much small moments matter.