Girls learn service, compassion through volunteer program

SOMERVILLE — Donning hairnets and greeting diners with smiles, 10 girls between the ages of 8-14 years old serve lunch at the Jeanne Jugan Residence for the elderly in Somerville on the first Saturday of each month. The girls, who call themselves the Jeanne Jugan Juniors, volunteer to assist the Little Sisters of the Poor who staff the residence.

The girls and their mothers arrive each month for the morning Mass, filling the hallways with lively chatter.

Following the Mass, they split up into groups to serve lunch in the facility’s two cafeterias. After helping serve the meal, they have time to visit residents before they conclude their day of service praying a decade of the rosary with the sisters.

Asked to describe their experience, the Jeanne Jugan Juniors say they are excited to visit with the residents and proud to serve them. They tell stories about all the events they have participated in such as bowling, festivals, fairs and bingo.

They also relate stories that the residents have shared with them.

The girls said they have learned that some of the residents played a game called “Ding, Dong, Ditch” when they were young, where they would ring doorbells of their neighbors and then run away.

Tessie Connors, 11, said that hearing that story and others like it was not something she expected. It made her look at the elderly in a different way.

Louisa Diggins, 11, agreed, saying that she likes to hear about things like “the way it was before cars.”

“I like helping people, but I also like hearing about what it was like when the residents were children,” Louisa said. “They still have their sense of humor even if they’re impaired in some way.”

Ten girls currently participate in the program, which was launched a little over a year ago, but the sisters hope to involve as many as 15 girls in the fall. Each girl in the program receives a Jeanne Jugan medal to wear.

Sister Joan Patricia Ross, LSP, the community’s vocations coordinator, said that the program benefits both the residents and the girls.

“They bring joy into the lives of the elderly, and it teaches them to serve,” she said.

The girls talk with the residents about everything from what they learned in school to the Red Sox.

Resident Mae Mullin said she likes to speak with the girls about what she did in her school days and the changes that have occurred since then.

“It’s very pleasant,” she said. “They couldn’t be nicer.”

Elanore Curtin said that the residents are privileged to have their young visitors who bring in news from outside the home.

“It’s a happy time for us to see these youngsters,” she said. “They bring new life to us.”

Verlie Guidry, who at 92 was living in New Orleans until last September, said she has enjoyed the girls’ visits since Katrina chased her out of Louisiana.

“It’s very nice for you little girls to be doing this,” she told them. “It’ll make nuns out of you.”

Sister Joan Patricia lauded the families who make the time for their daughters to come one Saturday a month to visit with the residents. With so many other potential activities like soccer and baseball, they choose instead to come to serve the elderly, she said.

Mother Celine Thérèse Vadukkoot, LSP agreed, saying that the girls inspired her with their dedication to Lent this year.

“They are exceptional families,” she said. “They inspired me.”

Two of the mothers of the volunteers, Marisa Creaghan and Anne Connors, said that the sisters have been role models for their daughters.

Connors said that many people have very little contact with religious women, which can lead to stereotypes. Instead, her daughters have the opportunity to get to know the sisters.

“They’re encountering real people,” she said.

Creaghan agreed and said that daughters need to see religious women living their vocations in the same way that they need to see their mothers living their vocations.

“They’re getting such great role models,” she said. “My girls see this; they’re absorbing it all.”

[For information about the program, contact Sister Joan Patricia Ross, LSP at 617-776-4420.]