ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Many people have felt isolated during the pandemic, especially those in nursing homes who faced strict regulations for visitors.
Volunteers were also impacted. One volunteer has returned to St. Anne’s assisted living facility to lift spirits.
Spend an hour with Gilda Defranco and you'll see why the residents at St. Ann’s love her.
“Everybody is happy to see me, I think," said Defranco. "They better be.”
She’s been coming to St. Ann’s for about ten years as part of their SAGE volunteer program.
“My husband was here for seven years and I used to come every day," said Defranco. "When I came I used to say ‘you know Joe, as long as you’re here, I might as well do something.'”
Since then, she’s turned volunteering into a family affair. Even getting her two sons involved.
When volunteering, Gilda doesn’t sit still. Even when not working with a resident, she bounces around St. Anne’s, stopping to chat in the cafe or gift shop.
“I like that they let me do my own thing,” she said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, volunteers weren’t able to visit. It was hard for not only the residents, but also Gilda.
“After COVID, we couldn’t come back for a year, almost two," Defranco said. "The day I came back it felt like I was coming home. Everyone greeted and hugged me and I said this is where I belong.”
Starting in 2022, the volunteer program is expanding and St. Ann’s is looking for more people like Gilda.
“I’m kind of getting old now," Defranco said. "Someone’s going to have to come take my spot. I’m almost 90.”
It might seem like Gilda is hard to keep up with, but she promises the most important thing a volunteer needs to do is have conversations with others.
“You gotta be able to communicate with the residents," she said. "Talk to them on their level and just try to make them happy.”
Good conversations and a lot of laughs.