Bringing smiles to seniors one visit at a time.

Volunteer Spotlight: Victor Do

    • Victor Do

Victor Do has been an active member of Senior Smiles for nearly a year. As a recent graduate, Victor still volunteers despite his busy schedule working as a physical therapy aide while also preparing for graduate school. For him, volunteering with Senior Smiles is a chance to spend time with the friends he has made in the senior living community. Volunteer coordinators and site directors agree that Victor is one of the most consistent and caring volunteers in Senior Smiles.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Hacienda Heights, California.  I am 24 years old and I graduated from California Polytechnic University of Pomona in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with an emphasis on exercise science/ clinical health.  Currently, I work as a physical therapy aide in an outpatient orthopedic center.  Before I started this job, I also prepared for a career in physical therapy by volunteering in an inpatient rehabilitation center and an outpatient pediatrics clinic.  I am extremely excited because I have been accepted into a physical therapy graduate program that starts in 2015.  As for hobbies, I joined a mixed martial arts gym because I enjoy pushing my body to its limits and being a lifelong learner energizes me. I train in boxing, jiu jitsu, kick boxing, and wrestling.        

How did you hear about Senior Smiles and what made you interested in volunteering?
After I celebrated the New Year with my girlfriend, we made a list of our new year’s resolutions.  One of our goals was to dedicate a day in the week to give back to the community.  I went on Volunteermatch.com and the name “Senior Smiles” caught my attention instantly.  As an aspiring physical therapist, I want to specialize in geriatrics in the future.  While volunteering in an inpatient hospital along with working at my current job, I have had the pleasure to form relationships with many elderly patients.  My passion for working with elderly patients was definitely a motivating factor that caused me to sign up for the earliest orientation available at Senior Smiles.  

What keeps you an active member?
I have been with Senior Smiles for nearly a year and never have I thought of it as “volunteering”.  Instead, I see it as an opportunity for me to spend time with friends I had the pleasure of meeting in the senior community. 

What is your fondest memory working with Seniors Smiles?
I love it when performers come in to play music for the residents.  When residents hear songs they can relate to, they get excited and everyone sings along. I can definitely tell it brings back happy memories for them.  During one visit, one of the residents held my hand and we were moving to the beat of the song.  She had her eyes closed the whole time and her eyebrows were moving up and down like waves in the ocean.  It was incredible to see her so passionate about music and absorbed in the present moment. 

Can you share something valuable you have gained from the Senior Smiles experience?
All the genuine friendships I made are definitely the most valuable thing I gained from Senior Smiles.  I spend most of my time with residents that have dementia. Throughout my time with the residents, I learned that emotional conditioning is possible.  The residents may not remember my name or what I did for them, however, they do remember how I make them feel. 

The hardest experiences I have had to go through while with Senior Smiles is walking into a facility and seeing a picture frame that says “In loving memory of (a former resident’s name)”.  Although I am sad when I see that, I am also happy by the fact that they lived a joyful and full life, and that they will live on in the memory of their loved ones as well as my own.  This has taught me to appreciate the moments we share with others. 

Do you have any advice for people looking to volunteer with Senior Smiles or work with seniors in general?
With my experience interacting with seniors both in a physical therapy setting and with Senior Smiles, I notice a difference in mindset that seniors have compared to the younger adult population.  Many seniors may have a self-fulfilling insight that aging means decline and poor health.  When working with seniors, it is important to address this negative perception on aging.  I strongly believe that the way we perceive an event is more important than the event itself and there are many ways to perceive any one event. Along with promoting a positive outlook in life when working with seniors, it is important to concentrate on their abilities, not disabilities, to help them continue to do what they love.  I definitely feel the staff at Vintage Newport does a good job of focusing on the residents’ abilities because they always have activities that every resident is able to get involved in. 

If you could say something to all the seniors, what would it be?
When I first started at Senior Smiles, I arrived early and the activities director, Helen, requested that I wait outside of the activities room.  The doors were closed and she informed me the residents were meditating. It’s amazing that mindfulness is promoted in the community and this is definitely something I would encourage the residents to do as well. Many residents spend their time reminiscing about their past or worrying about the future. If I could say something to all the seniors, I would tell them to be in the present moment.  Our past and future are thoughts in our mind. In order to experience life at the fullest, it is important to be mindful and aware of the present.