Bringing smiles to seniors one visit at a time.

Miles of Smiles

Miles of Smiles is our quarterly newsletter, containing recent milestones, updates and stories about our organization and members. Click "expand" on the preview to read! 


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 Valentine's Day 2016

On Valentine’s Day this year, February 14, 2016, there was a Valentine’s Day Ball at The Watermark at Beverly Hills. There was a cover band playing many popular hits such as “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by Everly Brothers. A dance floor was set up for everyone to dance on. There was a table filled with delicious sweets including red velvet cakes and chocolate-covered strawberries. In addition to the high turnout of seniors, many volunteers from Senior Smiles showed up. Everyone had fun hanging out, talking, and dancing with each other. On a sweet and fun-filled day, it was an unforgettable event for all our seniors and volunteers.

    • Valentine's Day 2016

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Volunteer Spotlight: Armando Villareal

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Armando Villareal began volunteering with Senior Smiles at the end of last year. As an engineer, Armando’s work keeps him very busy, often requiring him to travel out of the country. Despite the full schedule, he is consistently able to fit in volunteering, leading activities, and visiting residents. With his bright smile and caring attitude, Armando always brings a positive energy to the room whenever he volunteers.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I live in Mar Vista next to Santa Monica. I moved to LA from Virginia where my previous job was, about five and a half years ago. I grew up in Texas so I’ve been everywhere. I went to college in Oklahoma where I studied Mechanical Engineering. I am an Engineer and I work in the cosmetics manufacturing industry.

Do you have any hobbies?
Yes, mountain biking. I learned sailing a couple years ago. I haven’t been out there as much as I would like to but I try to keep up with it as much as I can so I don’t forget. The beaches are always fun. Also, live music. I try to listen to as much live music as I can. I get kind of busy so sometimes I don’t have a lot of time to do all of that.

How did you hear about Senior Smiles?
When I decided I wanted to do volunteer work, Senior Smiles was one of the organizations that popped up on VolunteerMatch and it was one of the organizations that was nearby. I wanted something close so it could fit well with my schedule and it looked like a good organization. I signed up for an orientation that Gabriel was holding back in November of last year. It sounded very well organized and sounded like they could use some help.

Was there any prior experience, perhaps with a senior, that motivated you to join or was it just a general interest?
I had it in mind from before. I guess the few different times that I spent with seniors I really enjoyed it. You can talk to them about everything they have experienced, which is a lot more than we have. In my old job when I was waiting tables in college I had a lot of customer that were seniors that would remember me and start chatting with me and I would always remember them. This seemed like a good opportunity to help out and to have good conversations.

What keeps you an active member?
I have tried my best to be steady. I’ve learned to value friendship and companionship and I know that some of the people living in the homes don’t get a lot of communication with others. When I go in and I see that they are happy to see me and that they remember me, even if I hadn’t gone in a week, I know that this all means something to them.

Do you have a specific experience that has stayed with you during your volunteer time?
In general, they manage to make me laugh a lot. It’s just very enjoyable and surprising that they make me laugh when usually I’m the one that tries to make people laugh. Also, one of the residents that I visit was telling me that he was friends and went to school with Buzz Aldrin the astronaut, which is not something you hear every day. It struck me that these people have amazing experiences and which get very interesting conversations going.

If you could say something to someone who was undecided about Senior Smile what would you say to them?
I would say that you never know when someone else will be grateful for your companionship and for your time. They may not tell you but you can see that they are happy, especially when they see you again and they remember. Think about a moment in your life when you were lonely and wanted someone to talk to. It was always good to just have someone there. You can’t always tell the huge impact you have on someone’s day. Most of us have our friends and our families, but for those that don’t, small interactions can mean a lot.

To volunteer and create these small but meaningful experiences for seniors in your community, get started here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Karen Lee

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, Karen Wong Lee is a nurse at the LA County General Hospital. She enjoys fashion, food, and reality TV shows, as well as spending time with friends whenever she can.  

Karen is one of Senior Smiles' most dependable, responsible, and caring volunteers. Directors realized this early on and asked her to become a Volunteer Coordinator for the Torrance location. For almost two years, she has been giving her time to both residents at senior communities and volunteers of our organization. She has not only brought smiles to seniors, but has also been a support for volunteers to do their good work.

When did you begin volunteering for Senior Smiles and why did you join?
I started in about November or December of 2010. I wanted to just be more involved in the community and do something good. I wanted some volunteer work, and I found Senior Smiles on volunteermatch.com. It just seemed like exactly what I was looking for. Also, the location was very important for me. The Torrance location makes it very convenient for me to volunteer. 

I wanted to try Senior Smiles because sometimes as a nurse we get overwhelmed with the stress at work, and we don't always have the time to be emotionally there for the patient. We always have tasks to take care of so I wanted to volunteer to help patients in a different way, to be there for a patient as a friend.

What motivates you to remain such an active member?
When I first started, I met a resident named Karl and we became great friends. It felt like he was an old family friend. I would even see him more than some of my own friends. I think my relationship with him helped me stay committed now, because he was very appreciative for the time that I took to see him. My visits made him thankful and it was nice to be appreciated. Sometimes, people forget to appreciate people.

Do you feel you have learned or gained anything of value by volunteering with Senior Smiles?
Because of sickness, Karl was stuck inside the nursing home. He couldn't get out much. Residents often get frustrated because they lose their independence and they have to rely on the staff for daily activities. Just watching him get frustrated reminded me to be patient with my own patients at work as a nurse. It's not fun losing independence and to be stuck anywhere. We should have empathy for them. The experience also made me appreciate what i have in my own life.

What do you feel is most rewarding about your position as Volunteer Coordinator and why did you become interested in the position?
Being a Volunteer Coordinator gave me the opportunity to meet new people and to see that there are people out there who want to help and be involved in the community by doing volunteer work. It was very refreshing, because I think people these days in this society are so preoccupied with materialist things. I feel that sometimes people have become very selfish.  It is very refreshing to see people that want to give their time to make others happy, especially when I see young teenagers who want to volunteer.

A few weeks before this interview, Karl passed away from cancer but the memory of him continues to inspire volunteers like Karen. She in turn continues to be a friend to others and, with her work as a Volunteer Coordinator, Karen forms meaningful bonds between volunteers and seniors. Sydney Cooper Senior Smiles is very grateful to have Karen as a part of our organization.

To become a volunteer leader like Karen, the first step is to become a volunteer. Get started here.

Tags: volunteer

Lessons from Dr. Rivin

Dr. Arthur Rivin is a retired physician and professor emeritus of medicine at UCLA. At the age of 89, Dr. Rivin practices kindness and compassion towards the people around him.  He continues to show his concern for the community by helping others fight Alzheimer’s Disease. Interns at Sydney Cooper Senior Smiles had the wonderful opportunity to have dinner with Dr. Rivin and his wife, where he shared this story below. His message, "It's nice to be nice."


I frequently gave a rose to the postman as he delivered the mail, I could tell he really enjoyed the rose, I gave as a token of my appreciation. One day I had a special favor from him. I lost my balance out in the rose bushes, couldn’t get up and my hands were bleeding from the thorns. The postman saw me struggling to get to my feet. When he saw my situation, he stopped his car, came out to where I was, in the bushes, and helped me to my feet, and I was soon all right. It pays to be nice to people with whom you cross paths.

To learn more about Dr. Rivin, check out this article about him from the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lopez-alzheimers-20120702,0,4742833.column

Tags: Rivin, intern

Volunteer Spotlight: Bart Ortberg

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An alumnus of Northern Illinois University, Barton Ortberg moved from Illinois to California in 1985 and currently resides in West Hollywood. When asked to describe Bart, his Volunteer Coordinator said, “Bart is one of the most dedicated and consistent volunteers. It’s very obvious that he cares a lot about the seniors and is sincere with what he does.  We’re lucky to have him!”

In addition to the time with Senior Smiles, Bart works for an association management company and has also volunteered for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, helping with their events and shows.

When did you begin volunteering for Senior Smiles and why did you join the organization?
I started last October and found it through volunteermatch.com. I had free evenings and was looking to somehow get involved and give back. I found Sydney Cooper Senior Smiles.

Why do you remain an active member?
Gabriel [Bart’s Volunteer Coordinator] is great. He is so helpful, fun and such a great resource. He is a great guy and such an encourager, the perfect one to have involved with the volunteers. Gabe is supportive and upbeat, and I respect him. He remembers everything, and he knows so much about everyone – all the stories of all the people. He is an inspiration to me.

What are some memorable or rewarding experiences and do you feel you have learned or gained anything of value?
I have been fortunate to be paired up with one person. I love getting to know Betty. She is amazing and such an inspiration. She loves current events and news. When I read the newspaper, she just sits there and soaks it up whereas other people consider it dry stuff. To help her read, she has a machine that lets her look at the newspaper but it hurts her eyes after a short amount of time so I spend half the time talking to her about silly stuff and what’s going on in her life. The rest of the time, I read the newspaper to her.

At 97, she is incredibly sharp. She is so sharp that she remembers everything not only from 1925 but in the 70’s and what she did last week. She tells me about Moscow in 1923, coming over here with her two sisters, her parents and her grandparents.

Sometimes, I wonder, since she has so much family, does she really need me? Then I say maybe I can read for her since it is something I can do that I don’t think that a lot of people are doing for her and she’s thankful for it. I’ve talked about her to my family and people at work and everyone feels like they know Betty now.

I have been so fortunate and the experience makes me appreciative of every moment and to not take anyone for granted. My admiration for her is up to the roof. I am just marbled by her, and I have been so touched by getting to know Betty. I go visit her Thursday evenings and it is so sweet. When I go to visit, her caretaker has a diet coke and cookies set in the patio. It has been really easy and really great with Betty.

If you could say something to all the seniors what would it be?
How much they’re sharing helps me and how much I like hearing about their life. A lot of the times they wonder if they are boring and they’re not! I am there for an hour to talk about anything. So I would say that their sharing of stories helps us and that we like to hear them. It is fun hearing stories about the past especially way back. Pictures really help too to put faces to stories. So I would say: don’t be afraid and don’t think that you are boring! The volunteers want to hear your stories and see your pictures.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would encourage anyone to get involved if they feel like they would like to give back. They can fit it into their schedules. I had weeknights available and I was fortunate enough to have found a senior that is available after I get off of work. I would encourage anyone that is looking to give back to get involved.

Senior Smiles thanks Bart for his dedication to seniors in his community. His continuous commitment, thoughtfulness, and sincerity make him our Volunteer of the Month for September! To become a volunteer like Bart or to support our organization, visit seniorsmiles.org for more information.

Tags: volunteer

Now Accepting Spring/Summer Internship Applications

Interested in a career in nonprofit industry, gerontology, or the health field? Or maybe, you just want to be more involved in volunteering and community service? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, the Senior Smiles Internship Program may be right for you.

We are looking for a group of creative, motivated, bighearted, and responsible individuals to strengthen old projects and develop new initiatives at Senior Smiles. In addition, interns will gain firsthand experience working with seniors in their community and experience in nonprofit industry. Learn more here.

The deadline for the Spring - Summer 2012 cycle is March 4 so please submit your applications soon!