One of the best ways to keep senior life rewarding and exciting is to donate one’s time to help friends, neighbors and strangers. With tight budgets and shrinking state dollars, many non-profit community organizations rely on volunteerism just to be able to continue operating. Here are a few suggestions for getting out and helping.
Educating and mentoring.
Many seniors don’t realize that there are so many opportunities to share their immense career experiences with young adults and children. But that’s just what the residents of Episcopal Retirement Homes in Cincinnati are doing with their award-winning Council on Life Long Engagement (CLLE) initiative.
The CLLE pairs older adults with teachers in Tristate classrooms to collaboratively develop lesson plans and lectures based around a learning objective and the CLLE volunteer’s career experiences.
So, for example, when a group of 5th graders at Nativity School were doing a science unit on chemistry, Jack Fix, an ERH resident who had retired from working as a researcher on Proctor & Gamble’s Crest toothpaste line, came to talk with the students about his experience using chemistry in the 1950s. Fix spoke with students about how his team went about determining how fluoride could be added to toothpaste to improve public dental health.
Some volunteers speak to classes about not only their career experiences, but also their life experiences. When Nick Voss’ 8th graders were learning about the Second World War, two CLLE volunteers— Ann Marie Zinga, a former Army nurse, and David Campbell, a Navy pilot who served in the Mediterranean theater of operations— came and spoke to his class about their war experiences. Other residents have spoken about life during the Great Depression and how the economic downturn affected their families.
Other CLLE volunteers conduct career fairs at schools, talking with students about their former careers and inspiring students to imagine the career paths that may be open to them. Another successful CLLE program is the Dining Etiquette luncheon.
During the luncheon, volunteers go into the classrooms to discuss manners and traditional social graces, then host a field trip lunch to a retirement community where the students exhibit their newly-polished skills.
Red Cross and disaster relief organizations.
You don’t have to go far from home to positively affect the outcomes for people in remote disaster zones. Many seniors in Cincinnati volunteer with the local chapter of the Red Cross, or with private or religiously-affiliated disaster relief groups like Matthew 25 Ministries, to assist in general efforts.
Volunteers may put together care packages and disaster aid supplies so that they can be quickly shipped and deployed when needed. They may train to give first aid in local disaster situations or to respond to people in need of help during psychological crises. Some tasks are less flashy, but arguably have a more immediate impact on neighbors. Red Cross drivers in Butler County, for example, ferry people back and forth to necessary medical appointments.
No-kill animal shelters
With the ever-expanding population of homeless or abandoned dogs and cats, many traditional shelters like the SPCA are overwhelmed. Moreover, increasing societal distaste for shelters that put down non-injured, healthy animals has created a cottage volunteer industry of no-kill pet shelters. Help and supplies are always needed at such places.
Some, like Ohio Alleycat Resource in Madisonville, double as low-cost spay / neuter clinics and community outreach organizations to raise awareness about pet overpopulation. At OAR, teams of volunteers clean and stock the facility’s newly-expanded shelter ward. Some helpers come daily; some come on a specific day of the week.
Volunteers also needed to staff adoption tables at area stores, transport animals to and from spay/neuter sessions, foster cats awaiting adoption, or even just to sit and play with resident cats in order to better acclimate them to humans and get them ready for adoption.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is something that gives you a feeling of reward.
Volunteer work is an excellent way to get out of the house and meet new people while making a difference in your community. Consider what your interests are, and research organizations in your area to see what you might be interested in doing. From soup kitchens to cuddling kittens, there is always someone somewhere who could use your unique skills.