Some organizations send their members into the community to teach, instruct and direct.
The Reminiscence Program of the American Association of Retired Persons sends people into the community to listen.Simply listen.
Violet Garrison of the AARP was in Salt Lake City recently to listen up a storm. She and her group of volunteer listeners spend time with aging Americans; prodding memories, triggering experiences and letting the "reminiscers" say whatever they wish.
The volunteers aren't there to record information, do folk-life studies or compile family histories. They are there as a set of ears, as human beings that older people can trust and talk to.
"When lonely people talk about their past," says Garrison, "they feel their lives are worthwhile. Just the fact they're remembering something gives their lives new meaning."
Garrison's "garrison" of listeners uses several techniques. "Memory triggers" are used, for instance. Sometimes a photograph, a piece of literature, a song, a smell or a family occasion can be used to spark the memory of older people.
The listeners also try to ask open-ended questions - not "yes" and "no" questions. They maintain eye contact, respond positively and ask follow-up questions.
"Normally people aren't good listeners," says Garrison. "And we really should develop those skills. I've come to believe that our attention is the greatest gift we can give another. We don't want the `reminiscers' to feel they're on stage. We just want them to feel they have a gift to give - the story of their lives - and we want to hear it. We're not there to gather information. Our purpose is to stimulate conversation and provide joy."
The AARP also provides brochures and other materials to help volunteers in the program.
Those interested in being a Reminiscence Volunteer should call Kristin Hill at AARP. The number is 328-4711.