Elizabeth Gale- Volunteer Placement at Hand-in-Hand at Saint Columba House in Pointe Saint- Charles
Love Me Tender with music by Elvis Presley, is a self revelatory piece surrounding the past semester of my placement of volunteer work at St. Columba House’s community education program Hand-in-Hand for intellectually challenged, aging adults in the Montreal community in Point St. Charles. Hand-in-Hand provides a caring and accepting environment for the participants to learn autonomy skills and have stability and security in times of their lives where loss of physical abilities and difficult transitions of aging are a part of daily obstacles. I have had the privilege of volunteering in the music program on Wednesday mornings, where we sing classics with guitar and dance to old time favourites. Through this placement I have had the opportunity to form friendships with the participants along with help the program with simple tasks of aiding transitions to different rooms, floors, and serving lunch, and singing and dancing with the participants. It has become a highlight of my week. This piece centres around the tasks I am expected to complete in my placement, some given by the heads of the program, but most often to be remembered on my own and out of my own motivation and the standards I pre-described for myself. Despite the feeling of a utopia and almost haven-like atmosphere, each participant and myself enters with their day, and some days it is impossible to leave life’s tribulations at the door, despite the welcoming atmosphere. Through the music being almost entirely 1960’s classics of the time of most of their youth, I subconsciously took on a facade I thought I needed to represent in order to gain trust and friendship with the participants. That by being an image of impermeable positivity and nostalgia of singing and dancing in styles of a gone era, that I could some how melt seamlessly into their world. However, through this facade I faced disconnect and coldness with several of the participants, for I believe they could see they weren’t meeting me, they were meeting the person I thought I needed to be for the placement. This fictitious attitude for the first several weeks severed connections. After conversations beginning to grow into more depth over time and the image beginning to crumble, the over-arching theme became clear; my presence never required me to dissolve myself and my upbringing into their space to gain support, the intention of the program is to find equilibrium in our differences, able-bodied or not. In the 3 minute piece, I did my makeup and hair in a retro dress in front of a screen that listed the tasks I was given and gave myself through out the placement, Turning off a stage lamp, with the video screen typing, I closed the dream. In the performance I hoped to emulate a sense of nostalgia I experienced and evoke a character of their youth. Ultimately I learned a great deal from letting their young adulthood inspire mine, in their way, at that time. Containing music and dancing every week, that wasn’t a haven from the outside world, but a place to embrace and grapple with life and a time past.