March 5, 2021

Column: Among the many volunteers deserving of thanks, this high school student is a standout

Column: Among the many volunteers deserving of thanks, this high school student is a standout

Today, a few words of thanks.

To all the volunteers in Santa Clarita who have been delivering meals to the homes of seniors throughout the pandemic.

“Ever since March, we’ve had a wonderful team that has come together, about 100 of them,” said Kevin MacDonald, director of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Thousands of meals are being distributed this week alone, said MacDonald, and for Thanksgiving Day, the local Lions Club is providing 700 meals available for drive-through pickup at the senior center.

Thanks, as well, to the staff and volunteers at the Culver City Senior Center. Supervisor Jill Thomsen tells me that 300 meals have been delivered to its members weekly, along with flowers, plants and books donated by local sponsors. Local Girl Scouts and Rotary Club members have sponsored food drives, and this week, the Lions Club donated 200 holiday pies.

These may be small gestures in a vast region, but this is a day to celebrate simple acts of kindness that have made it just a little easier, for the most vulnerable among us, to get through one of the most trying times in decades.

Seniors, in particular, have been hard hit by the virus, and cut off from family and friends because of it. Which is why I’d like to tell you now about a student at Glendora High School, also a senior, but of the fourth year in high school sort. Serena Lin, 17, already had plenty to do, what with school and the college application process, but she wanted to perform some kind of public service during the pandemic, as well.

Lin offered back in April to do whatever she could at the Pasadena Senior Center, which has been delivering thousands of meals to needy members and calling them regularly to make sure they’re doing OK. Lin was directed to events director Annie Laskey, who runs a weekly social hour by Zoom and leads seniors in discussions about everything under the sun.

When Laskey learned that Lin likes to write and make videos, and had already volunteered with seniors at an assisted living center, she put the high school student to work right away.

“Since she’s a poet, we decided to do one of our social hours on poetry, and she was our special guest,” said Laskey. “She wrote some poems and we talked about writing … and she was so delightful and has an affinity for working with seniors.”

Lin has been dropping in on social hour periodically since then, and she said she enjoys being part of wide-ranging discussions on exercise routines, favorite recipes and advice on dealing with normal aches and pains.

“I think it’s important during COVID to help seniors, and it’s given me something to focus on and helped keep me upright,” said Lin, who told me her public service commitment was instilled in her by her parents, who are both doctors.

“Many of them really miss being with their grandchildren or other family members and having to be very isolated, and they’re having to cope with that loneliness and with the days blurring into each other. It’s something they’ve struggled with,” said Lin.

When Laskey was off one day, she asked Lin to fill in as guest host of the social hour. After she did, Lin wrote a note to my colleague, photographer Francine Orr, who had directed her to the Pasadena Senior Center.

“On September 1st, I was a guest host of the social hour, and spent the time facilitating an amazing dialogue regarding the advice that Seniors would give the youth,” Lin wrote to Orr. “I have made many quality friends and learned a lot about life and myself in this process, and I am so grateful that you shared this community with me.”

She said the wisdom shared with her by seniors hasn’t always been earth-shattering, but it has been grounding in these unusual times.

Enjoy the present instead of worrying about the future. Go for a walk and find solace and meaning in nature. Be of service, and be guided more by positive thoughts than doubts. Find silver linings even in difficult times. When the pace of life slows, as it has now, it’s possible to appreciate the things you often take for granted.

“One of them mentioned that people in our day and age, and in my age group, can be kind of scared to try new things because they think they’re going to fail,” said Lin. “She said failure is not a bad thing because even if it doesn’t work out, you’re going to be trained to be more resilient and you’re going to gain new skills.”

Some of Lin’s poetry has been inspired by her sessions with the seniors. In April, she wrote:

When the present

Feels downcast

It’s ok

To visit the past

Rediscovering

Buried memories

With the dust of hurriedness

Settling

Recentering

Ourselves

Lin took notes on all the advice she got and shared it with dozens of students, then began cataloguing their responses and creating video clips in which she added inspirational music over the narratives. On Tuesday this week, at social hour, she shared some of the videos during the Zoom session.

Laskey was reduced to tears.

Irene Wong, one of the Zoom participants, said there’s a lot of talk about generation gaps, but Lin’s videos can connect people of all ages.

“The calmness of that really struck me,” said Cy Estabrook, another participant, who said he was grateful that young people who are subjected to “bombardment … from social media” shared their reflections on the advice of seniors.

The rest of the social hour zigged and zagged, with the seniors offering each other advice on good books to read, how to handle bouts of dizziness, and how to find motivation to exercise.

Another of the participating seniors said she imagines herself 30 years from now, scolding her current self for not staying active. Wong ran the group through a demonstration on how to avoid neck strain by doing tongue exercises, and how to exercise even your eyeballs by moving them up, down, in a clockwise circle and then counterclockwise.

Lin piped in now and then, and reminded everyone she will be guest host of social hour again in early December.

They went past the one-hour mark and it seemed they could have gone on forever, but finally it was time to say goodbye for another week, and for each of them to offer a wish to one and all.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com