Beyond the Classroom: Insights from Lori’s Hands Service-Learning

I first learned about Lori’s Hands through a volunteer posting in a school email, where a captivating blurb caught my attention: “Do you have an interest in chatting with older adults?” As a student in my final semester of the Master’s Entry in Nursing program at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, I specialize in the care of adults ages 62 and older. Eager to combine my academics with hands-on experience, the volunteer opportunity with Lori's Hands was the perfect match for me.

Lori’s Hands, a community health and service-learning organization, extends its impact across the Newark, DE, Baltimore, MD, and Metro Detroit, MI, areas, connecting university students with community members navigating chronic conditions while aging in place. Throughout the academic semester, students embark on weekly visits to their assigned community members, fostering connections that often blossom into friendships. These visits serve a dual purpose: students provide essential companionship and aid with instrumental activities of daily living, while also gaining invaluable insights from their clients. Lori’s Hands shapes future healthcare professionals by instilling empathy, compassion and a love for genuine human connection.

As I approach my one-year student volunteer milestone this February with Lori’s Hands, I find myself reflecting on the enriching journey I’ve shared with my partner, Ricky, from Morgan State University. Our weekly visits to Barbara’s home in Baltimore City have evolved into a friendship that surpasses the bounds of traditional volunteering. Barbara, a resilient Baltimorean managing arthritis, lives a life filled with faith, family, travel and the companionship of her beloved cats, Felix and Misty.

‘Our conversations became a cornerstone of our time together.’

Ricky and I have assisted Barbara with various household tasks, from tending her garden in the summer to helping her prepare for winter by removing the air conditioner unit, to setting up Christmas decorations. As a cat owner, I found simple joys in caring for Felix and Misty with yogurt treats and baths. We also helped Barbara navigate Zoom meetings and the intricacies of attaching pictures to text messages, which showcased her adaptability and enthusiasm for learning.

Recognizing the importance of holistic well-being in older adults, our trio engaged in activities like Tai Chi, neighborhood strolls, and guided meditations. Beyond the practical tasks and health-oriented activities, our conversations became a cornerstone of our time together. We delved into world news, recapped the most recent Baltimore Ravens’ games, and shared plans for life after graduation.

Finally, we closed out 2023 with a potluck arranged to honor Ricky’s graduation and departure from Lori’s Hands. Our efforts continue to leave an impact on Barbara through help with household tasks, companionship and friendship. My involvement with Lori’s Hands not only deepens my appreciation for the Baltimore community but also affirms my passion of caring for elders in my nursing career.

Beyond my experiences with Barbara, Lori’s Hands extends its impact to other community members aging in place in Baltimore City. Teaming up with Johns Hopkins’ community engagement center, SOURCE, and Lori’s Hands Baltimore Chapter, I've been involved in the Client Storytelling Project, a critical service-learning initiative that involves interviewing clients to understand their background and experiences through a social justice lens. These featured testimonials exemplify how Lori’s Hands brings joy and connection to the lives of those it touches.

‘Everything is delivered from the pharmacy [by Lori’s Hands students], I don’t have to worry about going out to get anything.’

My initial interview was with Geraldine, who, after enduring a two-year waiting list for help through the Baltimore City Health Department, found relief in Lori’s Hands. Diagnosed with lymphedema, Geraldine faces mobility challenges and relies on a wheelchair and walker. Her student volunteers have not only made her home life more manageable but also have facilitated medication delivery, eliminating the need for her to venture out. “Everything is delivered from the pharmacy, I don’t have to worry about going out to get anything,” she said.

Another inspiring encounter was with Ruth, a recent addition to Lori’s Hands who last year celebrated her 99th birthday. Ruth told me about her worldly experiences, from a Manhattan upbringing to aging in her Baltimore home. Despite grappling with age-related macular degeneration, making daily tasks challenging, Ruth finds solace in the companionship of student volunteers. Reflecting on their visits, she said, “It’s very nice to have young people with a nice outlook to sit and talk with. It’s very uplifting.”

Last, I sat down with Tim, a true Baltimorean with more than two decades’ experience driving a cab. Battling chronic pain from degenerative disk disease, Tim found comfort in Lori’s Hands after facing social isolation during the pandemic. The volunteers became good friends, helping him navigate the challenges posed by his health conditions.

Lori's Hands is an innovative force in the lives of community members and student volunteers, weaving connections that transcend traditional volunteer service. Student volunteers are set up for success by receiving invaluable training to promote reflection and professional development. Lori’s Hands not only addresses the practical needs of those aging in place but also fosters genuine friendships, embodying the essence of empathy and compassion.

Michelle Galat is an MSN Candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Cognitive Science with a Neuroscience emphasis.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lori's Hands.

Photo caption: Students Michelle Galat (author) and Ricky celebrate the end of the year with their client Barbara, who they've been visiting for more than a year.