Volunteer reader brings generations together

Published: February 3, 2006 | 3431st good news item since 2003

Florence Holloway’s doorbell rings on a cool, cloudy Saturday morning.

“C’mon in,” the 93-year-old says softly. Her blue eyes peer through her glasses as she walks to the door, but Holloway feels more than sees where she’s going these days.

Alex Dobyan waits outside.

“Good morning, Alex,” the 17-year-old says, and his soft voice makes all 6 feet of him seem not so big.

He follows Holloway, who walks slowly and leans on her wooden cane, down the hall for another Saturday morning visit. The two aren’t related. They don’t go to the same church. Their worlds have little do to with each other. But Dobyan comes every Saturday morning, and Holloway answers, her Bible waiting on the table.

In her quiet kitchen, Holloway and Dobyan sit across from each other at a table by the window. The refrigerator hums as they catch up.

“Had a hard week, haven’t you,” Holloway says.

“I had a few tests this week,” Dobyan says. “How are you? How was your week?”

“Well,” Holloway says, “they can’t do anything for me. My eyes are too far gone. …

“I’m just the same old Florence,” she laughs.

“That’s what I like,” Dobyan says.

After a little more catching up, Dobyan rests one hand on the brown, 24-point, giant-print edition Bible at the end of the table. Holloway’s late husband gave it to her years ago.

“Wanna read some of this?” he asks.

She does.

The thin paper pages crinkle against each other as he thumbs through.

Holloway rests her wooden cane by her side and folds her hands on the table. She can’t see his shaggy brown hair or the brown eyes beneath his glasses.

But she can hear Dobyan’s voice, reading slow and clear.

“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye,” he reads, “but not to doubtful disputations. …”

Around the time Dobyan was looking to do some volunteer work, Holloway was looking for someone to read her the Bible. She suffers from macular degeneration and sees little these days but hazy outlines.

Dobyan, a senior at Central High School and president of the National Honor Society, knew volunteering was important for colleges. His friends were working with hospitals and food kitchens. But he wanted something different – something personal.

So his mom told him about Faith in Action Volunteer Caregivers, a program through Heartland Foundation and Heartland Regional Medical Center, where Dobyan’s dad works as a doctor.

Holloway got a call.

“I wasn’t very much interested,” she says, not feeling like herself that day.

They called again, and Holloway decided to give it a try.

In August, they met for the first time.

Both were nervous, and both were surprised.

“He was the most intelligent person,” says Holloway, who has one daughter living in Salt Lake City but no grandchildren. “He was intelligent and he knew what he was talking about.”

And Dobyan, who has no living grandparents, felt the same about her.

“We’re both very religious,” he says. “We share about the same beliefs, but I take what she says, and I apply it to me.”

He’s come every weekend since that first visit, sometimes bringing his parents, sometimes staying for hours learning how to make cinnamon rolls.

And sometimes, she is the student, learning about Dobyan’s busy young life playing soccer and tennis and applying for colleges.

“I’ve definitely brought her up to speed,” he says.

Faith in Action Volunteer Caregivers’ tagline is “A neighbor’s independence depends on you,” says program coordinator Martha Wakely.

“It’s so fitting,” she says, “especially in this situation. Just to have somebody care about you when you’re isolated adds such quality to life.”

As he reads, Dobyan swivels in his chair.

“Hast thou faith?” he says. “Have it to thyself before God. …”

Listening to the words she can no longer make out, Holloway feels uplifted. Her vision, her aching legs and the drain of a long life fade from her mind.

“That’s one strong message right there,” Dobyan says when he finishes the chapter.

“Let’s return thanks,” Holloway says, and the two pray together.

Seated at the table with red and white fake flowers and a glass dish of peppermints between them, two people from different generations and different churches find common ground with their heads bowed.

Holloway prays for people helping and affected by the hurricanes. She prays for troops overseas. And she gives thanks for her young friend.

“Amen,” she says.

“Amen,” he says.

Published in Kids & Teens, Volunteer
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