When you walk around the Hebrew Home senior living facility in Riverdale, New York, you’ll naturally see a lot of people in their 90s using walkers. But one of those people shouldn’t be mistaken for a resident — he’s 92-year-old Jerry Schneider, a volunteer.
Schneider may be old enough to live at the senior home, but instead, he goes there to work. He first visited Hebrew Home in 2007, when his wife was diagnosed with cancer and went there for care.
“I would see her every day and wheel her around,” Schneider told CBS News. “We used to see a lot of lonely people and my wife said, ‘You know, later on, you ought to volunteer.'”
At first, Schneider didn’t think he’d return to volunteer. He thought his wife would recover and come home, but she, unfortunately, passed away. Then, a few years later, Schneider’s son reminded him about his wife’s suggestion.
So, eight years ago, he signed up to visit seniors at the nursing home. On the first day, he was handed three names of residents who needed a pick-me-up. The first was David Oscar, and to this day, he still visits Oscar’s room first.
“He comes usually every Tuesday,” Oscar told CBS News during Schneider’s weekly visit. “See, I don’t have good eyesight, so sometimes he reads to me. But mostly, we chat back and forth.”
Schneider told CBS News that’s what most of the residents are looking for — a friend to chat with. He admits that it may be unusual to see a volunteer old enough to live at Hebrew Home. “Some of them would just ask if I were a resident — what floor am I on, what room am I in?” Schneider said. “I’d have to say, ‘No, I’m only a volunteer.'”
“One person said, ‘But you’re 92. Why are you a volunteer? You’re too old for that,'” Schneider recalled. “And I said, ‘No, I’m not. I’m here for you!'”
Schneider said most residents enjoy the fact that he’s their age — it makes him more relatable. “We have so much in common,” Oscar told CBS News about Schneider. The two friends talk about politics and the news – and reminisce about life before everyone had devices and smartphones.
Oscar said he was born in 1932, reminding Schneider he’s about six years younger. To which Schneider replied: “Oh, you’re a youngster.”
Schneider knows most people at Hebrew Home are just looking for a friend to talk to — and he’s happy to be that for them. His friendship has changed Oscar for the better. Schneider said his friend used to be a quiet introvert, now he looks forward to their chats.
“Except for the fact that he’s a volunteer and comes to see me, I don’t have too many visitors,” Oscar told CBS News. “And so, I look forward very much to when he does come.”
For Schneider, the visits help him, too. “This gives me a little extra life. I am meeting people here, talking. Otherwise, I’d have no one to talk to at home,” the New York native said. “I mean, I look at myself, and I say, ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.'”