Bridging the gap across generations

Norma “Pinkie” Hess and Anna Behrends, bonded when Behrends participated in a volunteer program.

Christine Illes
Features Writer

Anne Shaffer
Associate Features Editor

Many of us can agree that volunteering in our community is something extremely important. Reaching out to the community and connecting with others within it is something each one of us should experience. Not only does it help others, it is fulfilling to ourselves.
Dr. Elizabeth Thyrum, associate professor at Millersville University, works tirelessly to promote the importance of service-learning. Through teaming up with the Office of Experiential Learning and Career Management (ELCM) and contacting local volunteer coordinators from various health-related organizations, she encourages these groups to visit the campus to talk about the types of volunteer projects available at their facility. Students can then decide which facility they would like to volunteer for, since service-learning can be a course requirement in some departments.

Norma “Pinkie” Hess and Anna Behrends, bonded when Behrends participated in a volunteer program.
Norma “Pinkie” Hess and Anna Behrends, bonded when Behrends participated in a volunteer program.

One of these students who participated in service-learning was Millersville University junior psychology major Anna Behrends. At first, Behrends had doubts about the requirement of service-learning in her health psychology class. However, that completely changed when she met Norma “Pinkie” Hess. Pinkie is the spouse of the late Dr. Richard Hess of Millersville University and is a resident at Willow Valley Retirement Community. She is known for her dedicated volunteer service at Arbor View and her “lighthearted and fun-loving ways.” Not having much experience with working with the elderly, Behrends expected the experience to be something new and challenging.
Pat Russell, manager of volunteer services at Willow Valley Retirement Community, introduces students to the community through an orientation and tries to match the students with a resident she feels will develop a “beneficial companionship.” Right away, Behrends was blown away by Pinkie’s outgoing personality. Despite the generation gap between them, the two developed a very strong friendship, sharing their life stories with each other and plenty of laughs on top of that. The two even went out for a weekly manicure! Russell even noticed the great friendship emerging between Pinkie and Behrends and described it as “a friendship beyond generations.”
“Pinkie is very active,” Behrends stated. “She never likes to sit still. I have tried to get her to sit still to even play cards or crosswords and she has no interest; she’s always moving!”
Pinkie felt as if the generation gap between them was something that made their friendship more special than others. The generation gap was something that enhanced the friendship, allowing the two of them to learn through each other due to different generation perspectives.
Volunteering gives the opportunity of developing such a friendship. You never know where volunteering may take you, and you never know what you will learn. It is an experience you cannot get anywhere else. It can be hard work, but the experience is something distinct that an individual may never forget.
Behrends volunteer experience was certainly something special. “Pinkie is much more adventurous than I am,” she said. “She has encouraged me to not ‘sweat the small stuff’ and to have fun in life.”