Pendleton Health and Rehabilitation Center in Mystic is just one of the many places that Isabel Brokaw, Chelsea Woodworth and Maribel Ribera work as volunteers through the Buckingham Community Services program - but it is one of the places where they make the biggest impact.
Whether they're decorating the halls with works of art, singing at religious events or simply cracking jokes, the variety of elderly and disabled patients who call Pendleton their home are grateful to have the girls there. However, the residents are not the only ones who benefit from the volunteer work. Through the close supervision of the Buckingham program, the girls learn essential life skills that would otherwise be lost to them.
The Buckingham program is a job placement service that began as a Michigan-based operation in 1982. Since then, they have shifted to Connecticut where they work with high school students ages 15 to 21, particularly drawing from special education programs, to teach their volunteers self-sufficiency to set them up for life after high school.
Each student is assigned a coach who is responsible for a number of different tasks, not the least of which is transporting students from one job to another and spending the day with students at the jobs.
Shawn Smith, the program's supervisor for all students under 21, believes in the one-to-one relationship that all the students get with their coaches.
"We work with the school system. They fund the students so that they can get job experience. We work on building resumes, interviewing skills and money skills. Basically any kind of essential life skills," said Smith. "The coaches are there to lend an extra hand whenever they need assistance, whether it's lifting a box or just verbal direction or advice."
Through the program, students receive a diploma from the school system at the age of 21. They then are eligible to either seek a position in the workforce, more education or to apply for the Department of Developmental Services' program (DDS). If students choose to apply for DDS they're still offered Buckingham services, however, their funding for their volunteer work then comes from the state rather than the school system.
"Whatever their goals are, we want them to be as independent as possible," said Smith. "It depends on each student really, their paths might be totally different."
Pendleton, Brokaw, Woodworth and Ribera are given the opportunity to work at various other locations, such as Goodwill, Edible Arrangements, Big Y and The Holiday Inn. While these places offer the students real-world job experience accompanied by their coaches, none of them seem to give the students the same pride and social interaction that connecting with the residents at Pendleton does.
Concetta Franchetti, the volunteer coordinator at Pendleton is extremely impressed with Buckingham's involvement there.
"They're all so wonderful," she said. "These volunteers are great and they work well with the residents. It's a great resident-volunteer connection."
With each volunteer that comes through the Buckingham office, they try to find a job opportunity that balances their individual and personal skills with goals that they would like to work toward and improve upon.
For example, Ribera and Woodworth are very social people so they do volunteer work at Pendleton that calls for those skills such as wheeling patients or recruiting them for various activities. The hope is that by using their natural skills in a real-world environment, they will manifest themselves in appropriate and helpful ways.
Brokaw, on the other hand, admitted to initially being shy about interacting with patients.
The way that she was finally able to feel comfortable with the residents was through art.
"I usually help out with the decorations and the bulletin board. I'll make decorations according to the seasons. For instance, it's July next month so I'm working on a lot of patriotic stuff," said Brokaw, who seemed excited to discuss her projects.
"I've done a few requests for residents. One resident requested me to do a really big drawing of a model he has of a boat called the Eagle. I used a photograph of the model as a reference to make the drawing for him.
"I'm not very social," she confessed. "But I got the hang of it."