It’s easy to fall in love with volunteering

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Barbara Ruben

Over the last decade, Aileen Smith has had open heart surgery, a knee replacement and treatment for less serious ailments. But none of her health woes has kept her from volunteering at the Stoddard Baptist Home for long.

“I really miss the residents when I can’t be there,” said Smith, who has volunteered for more than 14 years at the century-old nursing home in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

Smith, who is 70 and spends about 30 hours a week at Stoddard, is one of the dozens of volunteers who step in to help with a wide range of tasks at the long-term care facility.

She helps monitor and feed patients, makes conversation and plays games with them. She enjoys helping take them to medical appointments, as well.

“I feel I learn a lot from their life experiences,” Smith said. “They’re very sweet. It’s easy to fall in love with them.”

A variety of volunteer jobs

Other volunteers at the 164-resident nursing home help in the gift shop as well as the finance and administrative offices, among other areas.

“We have volunteers from all over,” said Robin Van Der Pool, Stoddard’s volunteers director. “Training is offered to all volunteers. Some help with various holidays like Christmas or Easter, and others are career trainees. Even some of our staff members volunteer on their days off,” she said.

In college, Van Der Pool had to volunteer for 40 hours as part of her course requirements. She chose to help at a nursing home and never looked back.

“My passion for volunteering begins with my own experience. It was very fulfilling. I have always worked in nursing homes,” she said.

Volunteers from the community are also helping drive what’s known as “culture change” in nursing homes, said Bob Spencer, Stoddard’s administrator. [For more on culture change, see “Not your grandfather’s nursing home,” in the February Beacon.]

“This is part of our strategic plan — to give residents rights and choices, such as waking up and going to sleep when they like, and eating the meals they are accustomed to,” he said. “Integrating the community also helps with that.”

Stoddard began in the 1890s as a retirement home for African American ministers and their spouses. It is now open to all.

Though it has moved several times over the years, the nursing home’s current location incorporates a mansion originally designed by Thomas Walter, who was also the architect for the Capitol’s dome.

To volunteer, call Van Der Pool at (202) 328-7400, extension 1362 or fill out an application online at www.stoddardbaptisthome. com/volunteers.htm.

Other opportunities

Numerous other nursing homes in the Washington area are also in need of volunteers. Here are several looking for help:

More than 200 volunteers provide myriad services to the residents of the Village at Rockville on a daily basis — from staffing the library and snack bar, to making one-on-one visits, to hosting discussion and support groups and assisting with activities, such as bingo and movie might.

To learn more, call (301) 424-9560 or see the listing of volunteer needs at

The Washington Home in Northwest Washington is also seeking volunteers for administrative support, special events, planned giving, grant writing, mealtime assistance, friendly visits and nursing unit support.

Volunteers with pets are needed for the Washington Home’s Four-Legged Friends program, in which dogs and cats are brought in to visit with residents.

For more information and to volunteer your services, contact Nik Ooi at (202) 895-2677 or e-mail Learn more about the volunteer program at

The Hebrew Home of Greater Washington is also looking for volunteers to help provide quality care to its residents. It has positions available for a variety of interests and skill levels to help residents feel more comfortable and engaged in the community. Contact Hedy Peyser at (301) 770-8332 or for more information.