‘I Really Need The Young Fresh Faces’: Volunteers Visit Chicago’s Elderly On Christmas

Little Brothers
Volunteers with Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly visited Olivia Wednesday morning at her Bronzeville home. Monica Eng / WBEZ
Little Brothers
Volunteers with Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly visited Olivia Wednesday morning at her Bronzeville home. Monica Eng / WBEZ

‘I Really Need The Young Fresh Faces’: Volunteers Visit Chicago’s Elderly On Christmas

While many Chicagoans were still in their pajamas opening Christmas presents, others were picking up gifts and meals for the elderly.

Cristina Sarnelli and Rory Toelle packed their car full of bags from the Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly headquarters in West Town. Then they headed out for multiple visits Wednesday morning.

The couple said they wanted to reinvent their holiday routine now that they’re in their '30s.

"And we’re mobile and able to be out here on Christmas," Toelle said. "So, it’s great."

For their first stop, the couple brought a poinsettia, candies and a meal to a Bronzeville senior named Olivia. The Little Brothers program asked that Olivia only be identified by her first name.

Olivia shared stories about her writings on philosophy and religion — along with videos of her pantomiming famous opera arias. She even translated the Italian lyrics from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino as the volunteers sat mesmerized.

“If you don’t see any other opera,” Olivia said, “you must see La Forza del Destino. It will break your heart.”

Little Brothers
Olivia showed volunteers from Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly videos of her pantomiming famous opera arias. Monica Eng / WBEZ

Olivia said she enjoys sharing her ideas with young people.

“Little Brothers fills a lot of gaps,” she said. “I’ve always been one who had a lot of friends, who would discuss everything. And then they started leaving one way or another — either moving out of town or moving a little further than out of town. And Little Brothers came at a time when I really needed the young fresh faces they send to you, and will listen to the old stories.”

She also had some vintage jokes ready.

“I wont tell my age, but I will say this: My first babysitting job was Moses,” Olivia said, adding, “Just kidding!”

All joking aside. Olivia seriously appreciates the Little Brothers.

“It has saved the lives of so many seniors who have been forgotten by their families, or maybe there’s just nobody left around to remember them,” she said. “I’m so happy for Little Brothers and if there’s anything I could say to them it would be ‘je t’aime (I love you).”

Little Brothers CEO Simone Mitchell- Peterson said her staff appreciate the swell of volunteers they see around the holiday season.

“But, unfortunately, loneliness and isolation is something that our population encounters 365 days a year,” she said. “So for those who can’t give volunteer hours around the holidays, we have many volunteer opportunities throughout the year.”

Monica Eng is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @monicaeng or write to her at meng@wbez.org.