- Larry Benitez
Since June 2018 I've had a blast with members at all four Old Friends Club locations hosting what I call, "Rousing Bluegrass Sing-along". I wish I had started volunteering at OFC sooner. The experience changed my life. I highly recommend giving volunteering at Old Friends Club a try!
My hobby is banjo playing. I started just over 5 years ago and I play every day. I just can't get enough. In the summer of 2018, I was looking for ways to get out and explore "performing" music, open mic, busking, but that all looked a bit scary and "advanced". While searching the internet, using tools like http://www.volunteermatch.org, I found an Old Friends Club listing "Artists & Musicians: Share your Music, Talent or Hobby with Seniors in Sammamish". This seemed like a great opportunity to practice banjo and entertain folks in a low-pressure environment. So I reached out to OFC Sammamish and I'm so grateful I did.
What I originally planned to be a once a month gig at the Sammamish OFC, turned out to be an almost weekly and sometimes more than twice in a week gig, playing at each of the four club locations (Bellevue, Carnation, Kirkland, Sammamish). Even with so many "jams", no sing-along was ever identical. I often referred to the sing-alongs as jams because thinking of them as "performances" would make me nervous. In a bluegrass jam, it's more laid-back. In a jam, you support one another while teaching each others songs and learning to sing and play them together. Teaching OFC members the choruses to songs that we would sing together was a great way to engage them.
I was surprised by how everyone reacted in their own way to the singing and the music. Some folks simply enjoyed the "performance", while others got into singing the songs, and some got the urge to danced! It made me happy to no end that the members really became energized and enjoyed our time together. Some members began remembering a few of the songs I taught them. One gentleman, upon seeing me walk into the room with my banjo gear would begin whistling the tune, "Two Dollar Bill (Long Journey Home)". Others really enjoyed singing and clapping along to "Mountain Dew", "Gonna Paint the Town, or "I'll Go Steppin' Too". When I started hosting these sing-alongs, the songs were mostly unfamiliar to folks. After 8 months, there are quite a few members that recall the songs I've been fortunate enough to share with them.
My sing-alongs seemed to improve over time as I tweaked my gear and tried out different songs to find out what worked well (and what didn’t). I grew so much as a "performer", but I found that I grew even more as a person. I found a new passion for compassion regarding the Old Friends Club community and a desire to help spread the word about what a great program OFC provides, both to the members as well as their caregivers. While playing banjo at Old Friends Club I found personal fulfillment in spreading joy to the club members and for the honor of being even just a little part of their day. No other career job has filled my heart and soul in this way. I'm so thankful for having had this volunteer opportunity with Old Friends Club and hope that others will consider volunteering at OFC too.
Do you have some creative ideas or some special skills that you would like to share with our members? Consider volunteering with us and contact us today!
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