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Twenty-four-year-old John Ackerman of Schaumburg has been smitten with Friendship Village in Schaumburg since he first started volunteering there several years ago. The feeling is mutual. “John is an amazing person. He lights up the room,” said Joshlyn Johnson, the manager for whom John works at Friendship Village.
John’s first introduction to the senior living community came about as the result of a little tiff with his mother. “She wanted me to get involved with more things and do some volunteer work. I had driven past Friendship Village for years and decided I may as well volunteer there to make her happy. I started helping with the Wii bowling class on Tuesday nights. I’m in a bowling league so this seemed like a good fit,” he said. John admits that he quickly fell in love with the community and its residents.
As he continued his volunteer work, John was studying human services at Harper College. When he was required to do an internship, he began working with the Circle of Friends Program. The initiative, launched and managed by Johnson, encourages new or reluctant residents to join the many activities and social events at the community. John helps recruit participants, provide companionship, and helps transport residents.
When his internship was completed John said, “I came back to keep volunteering. I love it here. I have a great time. I like all the people and activities, and I love working with the residents. I love hearing their stories.”
John’s volunteer experience has helped him to determine that he’d like to work professionally in life enrichment for seniors. “This is what makes me happy,” he said. “In the meantime, I’m trying to get more experience through my volunteer work.”
John is on the autism spectrum, and has a slight speech impediment. His special needs don’t define him and don’t slow him down. “I’m just like everyone else. My thoughts race a little bit faster than I can spit out, and I go to speech therapy. But my personality is just how I am. I’m an outgoing, intelligent young man. My friends here describe me as a very patient, very funny, empathetic kind of guy,” he said. “I like to make people feel special. It’s my personality. I say ‘hi’ to everyone and ask what they’ve been up to. I ask if they’re doing well and if they say ‘no’ I comfort them and make them feel better.”
Johnson concurs. “John is generous about sharing his talent and patience. He always determines how to best give back to each individual resident. I could keep going on about John and the gifts he provides at Friendship Village,” said Johnson.