(Photo by Leonna Essner, Staff)
"They're really nice," Patterson said about the senior citizens she helps. "They talk to me some. They just like me being here."
When her summer softball season finished at the end of June, Patterson said she didn't want to sit around the house for the rest of the summer, she wanted to do something.
That something for Patterson, who is the daughter of Jerry and Gina Patterson Jr., is volunteering twice a week -- either Wednesday and Thursday or Wednesday and Friday -- at the nutrition center.
"It's fun because I'm able to talk and to help them (senior citizens)," Patterson said. "And it gives you a good feeling inside when you're done."
As a volunteer, Patterson helps set up the dining area of the center as well as fill water glasses, and she even types menus into the computer.
But most importantly, Patterson helps carry meal trays for some of the seniors as they go through the food line and then carries their food to their seats.
"She's been very helpful. She carries my wife's plate for me. She's a fine girl. She's really nice," said Floyd Crowley who was eating at the center Wednesday.
Volunteering isn't something new to Patterson, she also volunteers at the Kenny Rogers Children's Center and United Way.
"It (volunteering) has made me think differently about helping. Some kids sit at home and this gives me something do. It makes me feel like I'm needed and useful in some way," said Patterson, who will enter the seventh grade at Sikeston Middle School later this month.
Sikeston Senior Citizen Nutrition Center Administrator Yuvone Craig said the center has had young volunteers before -- but none younger than 15. And there's nothing the senior citizens love more than seeing young people walk through the door.
"Seniors like to see smiling faces," Craig said. "It makes them feel good to know that they're not forgotten by the younger generations. They'll talk about her with each other and say, 'She reminds me of my grandchild.' Then they'll go home and call or write to their own."
It makes Patterson feel good to know that she can help the senior citizens get closer to their grandchildren, she said.
And Patterson's help is much appreciated, Craig said.
"She's very polite and sweet. Everybody loves her. She's a fast worker and doesn't fool around. Last week she went to church camp, and we missed her," noted center volunteer Glenda Newman.
Craig said the center could use more volunteers like Patterson, although they can be of any age. The center could always use an extra pair of hands, she said, adding that the volunteers can really save time.
"It's not exactly the right expression, but youth intermingling with senior citizens is kind of along the lines of a lost art -- and it's a shame because a lot of wisdom can be learned from the elderly," Craig pointed out, adding that it also makes the older people feel good to tell their stories.
The seniors have helped Patterson learn through their stories, she said. A lot of these seniors have served in the World War and the Korean War, Patterson said.
"So when we talk about it in school, I know the things that happened," Patterson explained.
Patterson has also learned a lot about how to handle people and understand them through her volunteering, Craig said.
"A lot of the elderly just like to sit down and talk," Craig said. "And if the younger people would just take the time, they could really learn something."
Anyone interested in volunteering at the Sikeston Nutrition Center can contact Craig at (573) 471-6047 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.