Seniors and Volunteering
Jim’s friend Fran volunteers her pie baking skills
to give families when they lose a loved one.
By Jim, Our “Senior” Contributor
Volunteering is probably not a new thing to most of us. Americans are a caring nation of people who not only give greatly of their wealth, but also give willingly of their talents, time and wisdom to make life better for their neighbors when needed.
My wife of 55 years was educated in Social Work, but has worked in many non-profit positions through her years until retirement. Growing up on the southwest border, she has seen the sufferings of poverty and the depression it can cause. As such, she has impressed on our family and friends – and anyone else she can corral – the need to volunteer. She always readily points out that volunteering is a two-way street. You benefit others, however, at the same time it also brings benefits to you. Volunteering is so broad that it can entail world-wide overseas, national, or local opportunities, research positions, working with all age groups, teamwork, leadership, and in most positions, little cost is involved.
So now that we are older adults and have more time, let’s talk about this thing called volunteerism: why is it good for us, how we can find various volunteering positions, and where do these rewarding positions exist?
There are many benefits to being a volunteer. Here are a few of them:
- It is good for your mental and physical health. Volunteering gives a purpose to your day, occupies your mind with that “how to” attitude, decreases stress levels, increasing physical activity, elevates life satisfaction, and reduces isolation. Experts indicate that the physical, social, and psychological benefits to older adults who volunteer also produces higher levels of well-being.
- You are learning. Learning new things, improves your self-esteem, and your sense of feeling valued. The old adage ‘if you are no moving forward, you are moving backwards’ is valid. Volunteers gain new experiences and learning opportunities that motivate them to be better individuals.
- You can make a difference. Being part of changing someone’s life, whether a child, teen, adult, or older adult, can be a life-altering event. It feels right when we help someone else recovery from a challenge or help them grow and expand their lives. Many seniors also find bettering the environment and working with animals very rewarding.
- You make new friends. You meet others and develop what might be lifetime relationships. It opens up your vista to new things, languages, cultures, perspectives, approaches to betterment, and our own intricacies and needs. In the case with volunteers who work with children and youth, it is the perfect opportunity to address the generation gap.
- You do something new. Volunteering permits you to take a break and to get out of that old routine.
How can we find out about volunteer opportunities and where they are located? It is recommended first that we do some thinking about what areas might interest you and what location(s). Also, consider how often we desire to volunteer and if there are specific times that are necessary.
Find a local cause. If your desires are local, your church, United Way Referral Office, the AARP Volunteer Resource Center, the Area Agency on Aging, and national organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, are good places to start. Also, search for volunteer opportunities on the internet. Google can bring forth a wealth of information. Examples of such sites are the Volunteers of America (Alexandria, Virginia) website, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and Seniors Helping Seniors.
- Work with animals. There are national websites for those you wish to work with animals, or try your local Humane Society office.
- Work abroad. If your interest is in volunteering abroad, you might check with organizations, such as Volunteer International .
- Volunteer for elders. Volunteering in tax preparation provides a rewarding way to help in a required function. There are programs such as the IRS-sponsored national programs – The Volunteer Income and Assistance Program (VITA), or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). If your desires are to volunteer to assist seniors, the opportunities are voluminous. Most nursing and assisted living facilities need volunteers, as do programs such as Senior Companion, which helps individuals remain independent as they age.
- Spend time with youth. Information can be obtained from many local community and State offices that deal with youth, such as the local children’s hospital. Also, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Foster Grandparents are examples of two programs that are generally represented in most areas of the nation.
Before moving to Florida, my wife and I both volunteered at the local Art Gallery. I also was a volunteer at the National Memorial and Museum for World War I located in Kansas City. The very large retirement community in which we now live maintains a website that lists some 57 pages of volunteer opportunities.
If a volunteer activity is in your future, you will join the distinctive community of people that apply their unique skills and lifetime knowledge and experiences to benefit others. The opportunities and rewards are there for all of us. The benefits will do you good too.