Monday, December 28, 2009
To earn a little extra money for the holidays, I’ve set out on the road looking for employment. Each week, I’ll explore a different occupation, and learn what it takes to be successful in that industry. No job is too big or small, as long as it gives me the opportunity to get out of the house and meet the good people of Vermilion Parish.
My first interview was for a position as a bingo caller at the Senior Center in Abbeville. Tucked away on Graceland Avenue, the facility is home to the Vermilion Council on Aging.
“What does a bingo caller do?” my momma asked as we drove to the interview.
“They’re the ones who call out the letters and numbers during bingo,” I said. “There’s a game today, so I’ll get to audition for them.”
When we reached the Senior Center, we were greeted by Rachael August, executive director of the Vermilion Council on Aging. With over 20 years of experience with the organization, her main goal now was to help make life easier for the elderly.
“Welcome,” August said to my momma and me. “I hope you’re ready to play some bingo, Ms. Couvillon.”
“I am,” she said. “But you have to promise me that I’m going to win.”
“I can’t promise you that,” August responded. “But I promise you’ll have a good time.”
Our host led us through the Senior Center to a large room with an assortment of tables and chairs occupied by a group of anxious gamers with bingo on their mind. A woman collected nickels in a blue bowl from the players, and behind them, sat a large screen television, exercise equipment, computers, recliners and a piano.
“Do you think these are the prizes for the game?” my momma asked. “Grab my coin purse.”
My momma was disappointed to find out that the prize for each game were the nickels and dimes collected in the blue bowl. But she was happy to hear that she was welcomed to use the resources of the Senior Center.
“We want seniors to stay both physically and mentally healthy,” said August. “That’s why we’ve created a place where they can socialize, use the exercise equipment, or learn computer skills to re-enter the work place. We also have a small park out back for walks.”
According to August, the purpose of the Vermilion Council on Aging is to assist the elderly in maintaining their independence in their own homes by providing them with a variety of services. These include programs ranging from nutrition to transportation to recreation, such as line dancing, yoga and bingo.
“This is Mr. Couvillon and his momma,” August announced to the room. “He’s here to be the bingo caller, and she’s here to play.”
One of the players smiled and said, “If she wins while he’s calling, we’ll know they cheated.”
“He better cheat for me,” my momma said. “I raised him and changed his diapers.”
I apologized for not learning to use a toilet sooner, and then walked over to the regular bingo caller, Clifton Pierson. I had hoped to be able to use one of those round cages filled with balls, but instead he handed me a stack of cards with letters and numbers on them.
“N 15,” I said loudly. “N 15.”
My momma lost the bingo game that I called, and to prevent from being disinherited, I handed the cards back to Mr. Pierson. Instead, I excused myself to Ms. August’s office to learn more about her life at the Vermilion Council on Aging.
“Do you have a most memorable moment from working here?” I asked.
“I’ve had so many great ones,” August said. “But the most inspirational ones were with a woman who used to manage the Abbeville Senior Center. She had a hearing disability, but she taught herself how to communicate by reading lips. Nothing kept her from accomplishing her goals.”
August said that there is never a dull moment at the center, because every day brings on a new challenge. She said that sometimes the lack of resources can be difficult, but that nothing will stand in her way from helping the elderly.
“They’ve given me so much,” she said. “The center is like my home, and the people who work and visit are like family.”
When we went back out to the bingo room, there was a pile of nickels lying on the table near where my momma was sitting. She looked up at me and winked, and then looked back down at her winnings and smiled.
When we left the Senior Center, my momma asked, “So did you get the job? It would probably be a good one for you since you seem to like hearing the sound of your own voice.”
Although the bingo caller position was a volunteer job, I hoped to do it again in the near future. The positive energy at the Senior Center was touching, but what impressed me most was that there was a place senior citizens and their families could go for assistance. Be it as simple as a bingo game, which promotes mental health, or as serious as information on nutrition, the employees at the Senior Center were eager and qualified to help.
“They offered the bingo caller job to me,” I said to my momma. “But I turned them down. Instead I’m going to bring you here each week, and just live off of all the nickels and dimes you win.”
To volunteer, or for more information on the resources provided by the Vermilion Council on Aging, call 337-893-2563.