Bingo Is Its Name-O

Bingo board

For Dickinson students, Thursday nights have a lot to offer. For some, it’s the last chance to finish homework before the weekend. For others who are lucky enough to have no Friday classes, it already is the weekend, and the night is treated as such. For me, it means only one thing: B-I-N-G-O.

“N42, we’ve got an N42!” I shout into the microphone as the crowd before me scrambles to put their pieces in place.

On a warm Thursday night in April, there are plenty of places I could be. Most of my friends are lounging outside of The Quarry or playing catch on Morgan Field. But I’m standing at the front of the game room at a senior citizens’ residence just down the road. Three of my friends are positioned strategically around the room, helping the players to identify the right squares on their Bingo cards.

The game finishes up, and we crown our Bingo Queen, who (much to the dismay of her neighbors) has won the final round four weeks in a row. As I walk one of the residents to her room, making small talk about the weather and my upcoming final exams, I realize that at some point over the past seven months, something in me has changed.

I started playing Bingo at Thornwald Home in the fall of my sophomore year. I had returned to Dickinson feeling that one part of my first year that came up short was my involvement in service. I was determined to fill that gap by doing something to give back to Carlisle. I had never worked with the elderly: Playing Bingo at Thornwald seemed like the right fit.

After the first few weeks, it seemed to me that to the residents, Bingo was more of an obligation than a treat. So we volunteers stepped up our game. We ran around the room and sang the Bingo song every time someone won: “B-I-N-G-O, Bingo was his name-o!”

Crowds started to form around the doorways. Passersby stopped to watch. We introduced new prizes: candies and a crown for the final-round winner. More people showed up every week. Rivalries began popping up in every corner. And most important, we all started to enjoy ourselves.

It was on that warm April night, after missing other Thursday nights full of Caf Sits and study sessions, soccer games and guest speakers, that I realized how much Bingo meant to me. I was about to go abroad for a full year. Some of the older regulars might not be around anymore when I got back. Who would sing the Bingo song when someone won? Who would get to know the residents who had become my friends?

Volunteering takes time, energy and planning, and community service tends to be a selfless commitment. But it’s not like you get nothing out of it, either. When I first started Bingo I felt I could never miss a Thursday because I was worried the residents would have nothing to do. But after Bingo became my routine, I realized I couldn’t miss it because I wasn’t as happy when I didn’t go. I liked how it felt to march into Thornwald, be greeted by a group of people who were excited to have me there and to then return to my spot in the library still laughing about all of the fun we had earlier that night.

So in my year abroad, I looked for something—anything—to fill the Bingo hole in my heart. In Morocco, I found a volunteer gig teaching English once a week, and the anticipation actually did remind me a little of the way I felt before Bingo. Yet in Cameroon, I never quite found anything to compare to Thornwald.

My study-abroad classmates and I missed a lot of what we took for granted in the United States. “I miss my dog,” my friends would say. “I miss Bingo,” I would think. So upon my return to Carlisle last fall, I quickly got back into my Bingo schedule. My conversations with the players in between rounds inspired me to start an oral-history project at the home, and though some of the relationships I had formed have been tainted by the onset of Alzheimer’s or other degenerative diseases, the residents are still just as excited for Bingo each week. In Carlisle, I’ve been fortunate enough to find a service project that doesn’t only do good for others; it does good for me too. And Bingo is its name-o.

Published Apr. 11, 2013