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Disney works its magic

Community: Hundreds of volunteers infiltrate SCV Senior Center due to incentive program

Posted: April 11, 2010 11:06 p.m.
Updated: April 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.

SCV Senior Center volunteer Imudiase Aimiuwu loads 40 hot meals into the truck he drives to deliver meals to homebound seniors on Friday. Amiuwu is volunteering through the Give a Day, Get a Disney Day philanthropy program.

 
Imudiase Aimiuwu drove from house to house delivering meals to homebound elders.

Just two weeks earlier, the 37-year-old Saugus man had volunteered for the first time at the SCV Senior Center where he cleaned rooms and broke down boxes.

In exchange for the help, Aimiuwu and wife Tawanna, who also volunteered, would receive a free ticket to Disneyland courtesy of the theme park’s Give a Day, Get a Disney Day philanthropy program.

But lending one day of service was not enough, the Aimiuwus decided.

Imudiase Aimiuwu, a Nigerian native, signed on to the center’s meal delivery program, which serves 350 seniors throughout the SCV.

He knew he would be visiting elderly residents who were mostly home alone. Still, his first delivery hit him with a wave of culture shock, he said.

“That was tough,” he said. “Back home (in Nigeria), the elderly are not left alone; grandkids or nephews, nieces stay in the home with them and it keeps them active in a way.”

After that, Aimiuwu wasn’t sure if he could continue. He considered requesting to help in the kitchen instead.

After thinking about the difference he could make in the homebound seniors’ lives, he decided not to and has since gone on a couple more meal deliveries. He’s begun to develop some new relationships, he said.

Conversations could be as simple as “How are you doing,” he said.

“I get to talk to them,” he said. “Maybe by saying hello to them, I might make their day.”

Aimiuwu takes a few hours from his days off to make the deliveries, which is the most critical volunteer need of the Senior Center, Clough said.

The Disney program has introduced hundreds of new volunteers to the Senior Center and its programs. Many, like Aimiuwu, have begun forming close relationships with the seniors in the SCV.

“There’s a lot of bonding,” said Robin Clough, director of recreation and volunteers. “Particularly with the home-delivered meals because that’s often the only person the senior might see.”

The Senior Center was infiltrated with about 600 new volunteers because of the Disney program, Clough said.

About 50 of those expressed interest in getting more involved in the center, Clough said.

“Normally we don’t have enough volunteers,” Clough said.

Volunteers have done anything and everything, she said.

“The center is just sparkling,” she said. “They’ve all expressed a strong desire to give, it wasn’t just about the (Disney) tickets.”

The Disney program brought people into the center that otherwise might have never considered volunteering there, Clough said.

Many were surprised when they entered the Senior Center, Clough said.

“So many people come in and it’s not what they expected,” Clough said. “They thought it would be depressing and slow-moving.

They had no idea the level of energy that they would see.”

Adam Ganshirt, of Newhall, walked into the center on a recent Tuesday ready to work. He walked past an elderly man playing on the piano and another singing for a dining hall filled with other seniors eating lunch.

As Ganshirt, 33, prepared chickens in the kitchen, singing and music reverberated from the dining room.

Tawanna Aimiuwu said she was drawn to the music and singing during her first experience. She recalled telling a friend that “people were there because they wanted to be and remain active and engaged in life.”  

The expected trade-off for lending a hand was a free visit to see Mickey, but Clough believes the volunteers have received much more.

“They may have Disneyland tickets but I think they’ve learned that the SCV Senior Center is the happiest place on earth,” Clough said.

Aimiuwu will continue with meal deliveries and Tawanna will volunteer on special occasions. The couple takes turns caring for their two twins and juggling schedules to make sure they can lend time to the Senior Center.

“It has been character building for me,” Aimiuwu said. “I feel I have been given a good job, kids, house, I’m OK. The least I can do is give four to five hours of my day off.”

Tawanna Aimiuwu, 35, recently stood in the doorway of the SCV Senior Center passing out Hershey’s Kisses.

She gave away more than chocolate candy and received more than a simple “thank you,” she said.

“I got lots of kisses and I gave lots of kisses away, and I’m not talking about the chocolate ones,” she said.

Tears began to fall from the 35-year-old’s eyes.

“This really warm feeling overcame me,” she said.  “I mean these were complete strangers taking kisses; people were just being really open and warm. You don’t get that all the time with the hustle and bustle of our young families and over packed schedules.”

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