In Lower Mills, volunteers lift spirits with elderly visits

Residents of the Lower Mills Apartments get regular visits from young student volunteers through the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. Ryan Daly photo

A program aimed at boosting spirits among elderly residents in city housing developments has become a popular attraction at the Lower Mills Apartments. Twice a week, student volunteers from across the world show up at the 2262 Dorchester Ave.to call bingo and swap stories.

The effort— organized by the Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly — has been up and running in Lower Mills since 2015.

Cynthia Wilkerson, the program manager for the Lower Mills program, said that having the program in the building makes it seamless for residents to participate when they feel inclined to get out of their rooms.

“The residents appreciate the energy,” she said. “For some of them, it’s the one chance in the week to do something social and get together.” Wilkerson mentioned how the residents also relish the opportunity to meet the younger people who run the program.

On Monday, Josie Bishop waited for a bingo game to start in the building’s first-floor community room, sitting patiently in a hat and t-shirt. The hat proclaimed her love for Jesus; the t-shirt, for bingo.

“In my apartment, I don’t do anything else but watch TV and read the Bible,” she said. “I hate to see the Little Brothers leave. And anytime I see them walking through the door, I can’t help but smile.”

Bishop, like many of the residents, spoke up in genuine glee when the number called for bingo coincided with the year that she was born.

“Programs like this help to create micro-communities,” said Nikki Therrien, 30, the executive director of the Little Brothers Program in Boston. She comes down to the Lower Mills Apartments, occasionally, to help call bingo. “Even as people move into their 70s and 80s, we want to make sure that people have networks in which they know others still care about them, in which others wonder how they’re doing.”

This program, Therrien said, also helps to meet the recently initiated Age-Friendly Mission in Boston, which looks to increase interactions between different generations, form a greater number of spaces for seniors to meet, and improve the opportunities for cultural exchange.

Imke Heering, 18, is a German exchange student living in Jamaica Plain. She has volunteered with the program since she moved to United States last August. In the time she has spent in Boston, she’s appreciated the relationships formed with residents when calling bingo every week.

“It’s been great hearing about [the senior citizens’] lives during the breaks in the bingo game,” she said. “Coming from an all white community in Germany, I’ve appreciated the interracial environment in Dorchester. It has allowed me to learn a lot about different cultures.”

Wilkerson said that although the weekly bingo is currently only open to college student volunteers, she hopes to open it up to high school, middle school, and even elementary school students in the future.

For more information about how you can get involved, Wilkerson can be contacted at cwilkerson.bos@littlebrothers.org.

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