Knowing When to Lend a Hand

By Wendy Garson, LCSW-C
Service Coordination
Jewish Community Services

Asking for help is something most of us don’t like to do — and something everyone has to do at some point. This is a dilemma particularly for the elderly and those with disabilities.  For those who would like to provide help, we seem to be comfortable offering help to others, but are not always sure how we can best be of help.

Who needs our help?  The challenge is to look beyond the obvious; disabilities are not always immediately evident and age does not always determine need for help.  There are varying degrees of disabilities: a person with low vision may need as much help as a person walking with a cane.  A person who appears to be healthy on the outside may in fact have dementia and need some assistance.

What is the right way to help?
There is truly no small act of kindness.  You have only to ask someone who is unable to drive whom you have just taken to a doctor’s appointment, or a person who is recovering from an illness and cannot cook, to whom you delivered a dinner. The kinds of help that we can provide are limitless. Observe the smiles on residents in a nursing home when they are entertained by a group of children or the appreciation of a homeless man when he is handed a knitted scarf at a shelter.

When is the right time to help? The “right” time to help may or may not be crystal clear, but it never hurts to ask. For some people there is never a right time and the offer to help needs to be made, regardless. Even when we know the time is right, such as during shiva or after the birth of a child, we need to recognize that help is often needed before or after a traditional or obvious time period.  The decision of when someone should help and for how long should be made, whenever possible, between the person providing the help and the person receiving it. If you see a person unable to reach an item on a shelf in the grocery store, you can certainly offer to get it down.  If you hear a person having difficulty hearing directions, should you intervene? So often the hearing impaired just need someone to slow down and speak directly to them.  Let the person verbalize what he or she needs.  Perhaps the best answer is that the right time is when your intuition tells you!

Why are there some people who will never ask for help? For many people, personal pride gets in the way of asking for help even when it is obvious that there is a desperate need for assistance. This can be a problem for both youth and the elderly. Lack of knowledge about community resources is another obstacle. If someone in need doesn’t know where to go or what’s available, it can be difficult for them to phrase the right questions to the right source.  It is amazing how much we take for granted when we have lived in the same town all our life or have learned about our community because of our job. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Finally, what stops some people from offering help?  For many the answer is simply time; for others it may be lack of confidence in their own abilities. Some might answer that they don’t want to upset or embarrass someone, while others might say they have never been asked. The good news is that most people do offer and describe helping someone as one of their favorite things to do.  Isn’t it interesting how easy it is to forget this when we are the person asking for help?

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Filed under Special Needs, Volunteering & Advocacy

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