Board games with grumpy old men

Having a social conscious and being social awkward are not mutually exclusive. For a long time I struggled to find a good fit to volunteer for a charitable cause that meant something to me. I tried a range of volunteering options like one-on-one literacy tutoring but I always struggled as as much as I want to help people, I am not the most socially at ease person. I am introverted to the point of massive awkwardness with new people… I know right, what a surprise I have a blog.

When I started volunteering people used to say “Wow, that must be so rewarding. They must be so grateful”. Frankly I can’t think of anything worse than people feeling grateful toward me – it triggers my most utterly awkward side.

I volunteer at a homeless shelter that specializes in transitional care and elderly care for men who have aged out of traditional homeless assistance. The men have health issues related to years of homelessness and related untreated mental health and addiction issues.

These are grumpy guys. They are not fun. They are not grateful. We don’t have to heart to hearts and there are no epiphanies. I spend an hour each week playing board games with elderly men, most those with early onset dementia related to alcoholism. It helps them maintain some cognitive functionality. They don’t have much family support, but in many cases they have been less than excellent fathers, husbands, brothers or sons. They have drunk and drugged to abandon, and been hard to live with.

No matter what they have done these are still people though. They deserve some dignity, and to be recognized as people. I don’t blame the families who don’t visit, I don’t know the history of the relationships and I trust that if someone has cut off a family member or limited contact they have not done so on a whim… they have considered the physical and emotional health of all people involved.

So all in all, it’s a good fit for me at the shelter, as I know I am doing something that means something to me. The rewards are for me. When I come home I know how much I have to be grateful for – I have a house and a family. I have support networks. I have the social capital that allows me to navigate the world with ease. Even my hardest days are easier than an lot of peoples easiest days.


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