Olivia (Lulu) Gaitan is a senior at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara. When she set out to begin her journey to the Girl Scout Gold Award, Lulu wanted to create a way for the teens and elders in her community to interact. In order to cultivate these intergenerational friendships, she created TeenAngels, a volunteer group that would meet with elders in retirement homes to organize activities and spend time with the residents.
“My goal for this project was to create a bond between elders and teenagers by setting up monthly meetings where both would interact and gain friendships,” Lulu said. “I knew it would be beneficial for both the elders and teenagers.”
She began by sending out digital invitations for a volunteer opportunity to potential TeenAngels, with a total of six teens signing on to join her team. They originally met with Santa Barbara Village (now a part of Community Partners in Caring), a nonprofit program that helps elders live independently in their own homes through a “virtual senior living community.” When the program had time conflicts with the volunteers’ school schedules, they began reaching out to Vista Del Monte, an assisted living facility in Santa Barbara.
Lulu met with Vista Del Monte’s Director of Activities to discuss her plan and potential events. The TeenAngels had their first introduction to Vista Del Monte’s Summer House (Memory Care Unit) in October of 2019, leading the seniors in a Bingo activity and Q&A session to learn more about the residents. The group then planned, organized, and led monthly activities such as holiday craft projects and a talent show with a few of the TeenAngels participating themselves. To purchase the necessary event supplies, Lulu used her earnings from the Girl Scout cookie program.
“The TeenAngels looked forward to coming to the meetings, and as time went on we got more volunteers to join the team,” Lulu said. “I found that the TeenAngels really liked to come and spend time with the elders, and they were flexible to do what was needed when we arrived. They appreciated the time with the elders and loved sharing stories and learning new things about each other. They were very patient and compassionate. After the meetings, my TeenAngels always had something positive to say about the time. In addition, workers at Vista Del Monte would tell me how residents would talk about our event for days after.”
So far, the group has met with Vista Del Monte residents seven times, twice virtually due to the shutdowns caused by Covid-19. They will continue to meet with the seniors virtually until it is safe to return to in-person events.
After Lulu graduates high school this year, she will be passing the leadership of TeenAngels to two of its current members – Kaylene King, a junior at San Marcos High School, and Yulissa Jimenez, a sophomore at Saint Rafael School. She hopes that with the girls’ previous experience and her provided outlines, TeenAngels will continue to build friendships with the seniors in their communities.
“The most successful part of my project was when the TeenAngels and the residents began to form relationships,” Lulu said. “Each time we met with the residents at Vista Del Monte, the TeenAngels learned something new about their lives. As time went on, they learned how to be respectful and kind while working with the residents.”
On her own experiences throughout the project, Lulu said, “I learned that when I really put my mind to something, I can get it done. I learned to be flexible since not everything is perfect or will go the way you want it to, and that’s ok. I learned that I can think on my feet and problem solve. I also learned that I love to help others and bring a smile to their face.”
Through their journey to the Gold Award, Girl Scouts in communities across the nation are creating long-term solutions to real-world problems. See how Girl Scouts are continuing to make the world a better place and find more information about the Girl Scout Gold Award here.