From being Co-Vice President of student council to maintaining several AP classes a year, senior Venkat Maddipoti seems like he has it all while only being 17. With his hard work and dedication, Maddipoti has shown no sign of slowing down his academic and social involvement with Maclay School and has spent months organizing yet another legacy to the Maclay community, Ears for Elders.
Ears for Elders is a program where high school students can go to an assisted living facility and have one on one conversations with the elders at the nursing homes. With the villas being located in Killearn Lakes, right by Golden Eagle, it allows for students to have easy access to the area, while only being a quick 15 minute drive from the school. Maddipoti started this club because he got the opportunity to volunteer over the summer at the villa’s here in Tallahassee.
“I really enjoyed my time,” Maddipoti said. “I could give an ear to all these folks and hear their stories, but it was also really fulfilling for me being able to learn from them.”
After spending time there, Maddipoti wanted to build onto his new experience and take it to a whole other level and introduce the idea to other Maclay students.
“It was something I really wanted to share with other students and so I decided to start this program,” Maddipoti said.
Any student from Maclay is eligible to be a part of the club and when applying for Ears for Elders, students can fill out an application and put in some personal information and specific interests that best fit their character. From there, Maddipoti along with executives from the nursing home will match the students up with an elder who shares similar hobbies with them.
“Anyone can apply to be a part of it [Ears for Elders] and [while] we have a lot of upperclassmen doing it, I’d like to see a lot of underclassmen apply too,” Maddipoti said. “It’s something that you should get the knack [of, and] just being able to speak to people like this as soon as you possibly can because forming long term relationships is a really important part of life.”
In addition, one aspect of Ears for Elders that Maddipoti takes pride in is how the program is designed to accommodate students’ schedules.
“I wanted to make this [Ears for Elders] as flexible as possible because it’s something that I think people should enjoy if they do it,” Maddipoti said. “I don’t want people to feel like they have to go in and talk to a person. I want it [the students] to be [think], ‘Oh I get to do this, and I want to be in the right mindset to be able to talk to these people.’ I think the flexibility of the schedule allows for that.”
Being a one-on-one program, the students participating are not confined to a specific time, but are allowed to visit the villas at their own pace when their schedule clears up. Students that are in Ears for Elders will drop in at least once a week and from there can just talk with their elders and get to know them. Furthermore, for each week that a student visits the living facilities for at least an hour, they will, in return, receive one service hour. While this is a great opportunity for students in need of service hours, individuals in the program are not driven by this, but are there because they truly want to make a difference in an elderly’s life.
“My favorite part has been the connection that I have made with my elder,” senior Olivia Bastien said. “She is so funny and she’s so full of life. It makes me feel so good every time I go and see her.”
While the Ears for Elders program has only just begun, the success of the club has shined through not only Maclay, but throughout various parts of Leon County.
“We’re looking into expansion [for the program] a little bit,” Maddipoti said. “I know there’s some interest with other students at Maclay that want to join, as well as students at other schools who want to join. I’m going to see if I can expand it to include as many people as possible.”
Since the development of the organization, students have voluntarily been visiting the nursing homes and have positively expressed their enjoyment of creating meaningful bonds with their elders. Maddipoti has seen significant relationships form at the villas and is proud of what Ears for Elders has communicated.
“There’s really no one thing or goal [that I want the students to get out of it],” Maddipoti said. “I want them to get a sense that it’s important to connect with people who might need someone to talk to. It’s [also] important to go out and try and make connections with people. I want them to be able to learn from their elders as well as teach their elders.”