Ethan Chilton is a typical 14-year-old who loves playing baseball and fishing for large-mouth bass at his favorite neighborhood pond. But not so typical is his passion for spending time with ageing adults, specifically ones who struggle with memory loss and Alzheimer’s. Last year Ethan spent 100 hours volunteering his time at retirement communities, earning him the Presidential Award.
Edge: How did you become interested in working with memory care patients?
Ethan: My mom (Kaylee) volunteered at a retirement community and said she thought I’d enjoy it. Also a friend of mine on my baseball team was a volunteer and said I should try it.
Edge: Were you nervous the first time you volunteered?
Ethan: My baseball team had participated in a walk to support Alzheimer’s, so I knew about memory loss. But I wasn’t nervous the first time I volunteered because I was with my friend who had done it before.
Kaylee: Even before volunteering, Ethan would make Valentines cards every year and pass them out to the residents at the community where his grandparents lived. He’s naturally very good with ageing adults.
Edge: What activities do you do while volunteering?
Ethan: We usually start the day with a whole group and lead them in some stretches. Then we play noodle ball. They sit in chairs in a circle and take turns hitting a balloon with pool noodles. The object is to not let the balloon hit the floor. They love it, and will play for hours at a time.
Edge: That sounds like a game anyone would love playing! What other activities do you do?
Ethan: There are two ladies who are roommates and they love to play Wii bowling. There are also two men who sometimes just want to play catch with us. We’ll also eat with people in the cafeteria and talk to them.
Edge: Is it difficult seeing people each week who may or may not remember you?
Ethan: Not really. The ladies who like to play Wii will say, “haven’t we bowled with you before?” And there’s one man who just gives us a big smile every time he sees us.
Edge: That’s a special bond you have. What was your reaction when you found out you had won the Presidential Award for your volunteering?
Ethan: I was surprised. There were three awards: bronze, silver, and gold, and I received a gold. The retirement community had a reception for all volunteers and all the staff attended.
Edge: How would you describe yourself?
Ethan: My mom says I’m very caring.
Kaylee: He’s not just caring, he has a passion and a heart for loving ageing adults, and it makes me so proud.
Edge: Do you plan to continue your volunteer work with those who have memory loss?
Ethan: Definitely. I look forward to it every week.