He’s spent over 450 hours at AlmaVia of San Francisco, visiting an average of 20 hours a week for the last six months. No, this isn’t Ricky Chae’s part-time job. He is a volunteer. Not too many 24-year-olds devote so much of their time to working with the elderly.

Ricky grew up in Southern California and attended the prestigious Ivy League school at Princeton University, where he majored in ecology and evolutionary biology. After graduating from Princeton, he returned to the Bay Area, where he is currently volunteering, engaging with clinical research, and applying to medical school.

Ricky had a calling from a young age to help others. One of his earliest experiences that sparked his interest in medicine was volunteering at a local community food bank while in high school. During this experience, he interacted with thousands of underprivileged families as they waited in line to receive food for the next few weeks. Through conversations with these families, he discovered how many weren’t just in need of food, but also physical and emotional healing.

“Many would talk about the difficulties of taking their children to the doctors’ office and obtaining necessary medications,” Ricky said. “By observing my community come together during times of need, I realized that there was a greater calling for me. Through shadowing physicians during my first semester at Princeton, I discovered that this calling was medicine, and I’ve pursued various clinical and research opportunities since then.”

The aspiring doctor came to AVSF in August 2019 after spending the previous year working in a UCSF research lab studying the anatomy of neurological disorders and diseases such as dementia.

“I wanted to do something where I build relationships with individuals,” Ricky said. “Reflecting on my hospital volunteering, I wanted something more long-term. That’s where I realized that volunteering at an assisted living community would be for me. “

Interacting and developing relationships with AVSF residents in assisted living and memory care neighborhoods has been a tremendous learning opportunity for Ricky. Spending time with our residents allows for a firsthand experience of the signs and symptoms of what he has been studying. But the experience has been so much more.

“Being here opened my eyes to what an assisted living community is. In the simplest terms, it’s truly a care environment. I believe it takes a sacred heart to work here, to be able to care for someone for essentially 24/7. I think that’s a really special part of this community.”

The connections and relationships he has gained with our diverse group of residents will last a lifetime. One, in particular, Ricky was able to not only bond with, but also be an advocate for, all based on their shared heritage.

“One resident in our community only speaks Korean, Japanese and a little bit of English. Being the only other person in this building who knows how to speak Korean has been significant in being an advocate for her. There was a time when she was in pain. As someone who doesn’t speak English well, it was hard for her to communicate with the resident assistant what she was going through. Being able to talk with her and explain her symptoms to her caregivers has been meaningful.”

Three words describe his experience inside AlmaVia of San Francisco: learning, service, advocacy. These are all the things he believes define the doctor he wishes to become.

“Advocacy. That’s a big part of my life and one of the biggest reasons why I want to become a physician. From my time here, I’ve learned through building relationships with residents that you get to understand their life stories. You get to hear about their goals, their aspirations, and their needs. For me, thinking how those experiences shape their illness experiences are some big takeaways.”

Ricky is also an exceptional steward of the Elder Care Alliance mission and values, living them in his work inside our community every day.

“Through volunteering at AVSF, I was able to realize ECA’s vision of erasing boundaries — when some of our elderly residents are expressing frustration or mood swings, individuals who are less familiar with the residents may attribute their behavior to older age or dementia. However, the residents may actually be expressing a need or experiencing pain or a trigger from their environment. Being cognizant of these potential biases has encouraged me always to consider the broader circumstances when interacting with our residents.”

We’re so thankful for the work that Ricky and all our volunteers and staff members do every day. To learn more about volunteer opportunities at AlmaVia of San Francisco, contact Illona Root-Chang at (415) 337-1339, or see job opportunities on our website Careers page.