By Madison Burinsky
It’s no secret that college students have a wide array of interests, ranging from art to music, and for some, maybe even playing bingo.
For members of the Adopt-a-Bubbie program at the University of Maryland, playing bingo is just one of the many activities they enjoy while spending quality time with elderly residents of local nursing, assisted living and retirement homes during the school semester.
Founder Natan Oliff, a senior computer science major, had the idea for the club that pays weekly visits to local elderly care facilities after he spent a year in Israel, where he chatted with his own grandmother on the phone once a week, even if just for five minutes.
Oliff said he wasn’t doing the phone calls solely to humor his grandmother; he was benefiting from the conversations as much as she was.
“It wasn’t like ‘Oh I’m just doing this to be nice,’ but like I was really gaining things from it,” Oliff said.
When the Chicago native went to the First Look Fair at this university after his summer in Israel, he noticed a lack of organizations that offered opportunities to volunteer with the elderly. During his sophomore year, Oliff decided to change that.
During the Fall 2017 semester, Oliff called numerous elderly care facilities within the area and posted on Facebook for the Orthodox community to join him in his venture to spend quality time with the residents.
“It was kind of makeshift, so I used my roommate’s car, and we went once a week and it was just a few people,” Oliff said, speaking about the beginning of the program.
Although Oliff said bingo is probably not his “favorite activity,” he said that some “really great moments” occurred during the beginning of the club, which expanded to visiting three homes in its second semester.
Oliff further expanded the leadership of Adopt-a-Bubbie in the summer of 2018, when Danielle Galitzer started to help organize the club with Oliff and helped it grow to over 20 members that Fall.
Galitzer, a senior special education major, said that participating in Adopt-a-Bubbie is a great way to build relationships with fellow college students. In addition to making connections with fellow students, Galitzer said the homes appreciate the visitors and added that it isn’t a big time commitment for the members, who typically visit an elderly care facility for about an hour once a week.
“Taking a break and visiting and learning, talking to people from older generations…give[s] you a new perspective, and a different perspective out of your hectic college career,” Galitzer said.
Another student who enjoys the club is Naomi Hoch, a junior and the current co-president of Adopt-a-Bubbie. The nutritional science major said she liked talking to the residents and hearing about their values and cultures.
Hoch said that being co-president of Adopt-a-Bubbie is a “learning process” and also said that any student, undergraduate or graduate, is welcome to join. Hoch’s fellow co-president is Alyse Messafi.
Hoch also emphasized the importance of community service in her life.
“[It’s] really important to step away from all your mundane problems,” she said.
Hoch, often called an “old soul,” also appreciated interacting with a different age group, given that at this university, students mostly interact only with other college students.
One of Hoch’s favorite moments from volunteering was when another member brought a guitar and they sang for the residents.
Echoing Hoch, volunteer Mia Kaufman, a senior special education major, agreed and said that her favorite memory is a guitar sing-along they did last year.
Unlike Oliff, Kaufman enjoys a good game of bingo, which she said is one of her favorite activities to do with the residents, along with painting their nails. She started volunteering with Adopt-a-Bubbie in the Fall 2018 semester.
“I’ve gotten a larger appreciation for the elderly and for hearing their stories. I’ve also gotten a really good buddy… I get excited to go see her every week,” Kaufman said.
Although she loves spending time with the elderly, Kaufman said her favorite part about the program is making friends with the residents and her fellow volunteers, whom she grew close with during the rides to and from the homes each week.
During the most recent visit, one resident at Apple Blossoms Assisted Living enjoyed hearing the volunteers sing tunes from the musical “Hello, Dolly!” while another was excited to hear Prince’s “Purple Rain” being played from a volunteer’s smartphone.
“This is one of the best things I’ve done in college,” Kaufman said. “[I would recommend it] 10 out of 10.”