Pictured: Volunteers from Give Back Cincinnati with St. Paul Village residents at a February 2020 event.
It’s no secret that our Episcopal Retirement Services communities would not be the special, effective places they are today, without the dedication of their tireless volunteers.
Despite the challenges that COVID-19 restrictions have created, ERS volunteers donated over 10,000 total hours in 2020 alone – an astounding achievement.
ERS’ Affordable Living communities are unquestionably bolstered by their volunteers. The 30 affordable senior living communities, located throughout our service areas in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, pride themselves on providing extensive aging services and other amenities, along with a range of residential options. And one particular component is the range of experiences individual volunteers, as well as volunteer groups, contribute to those communities.
Beth Moores, the volunteer coordinator for the ERS Affordable Living Activities Team, notes that even one or two people contributing their time can make a big difference by adding value to the experiences of residents in the Affordable Living communities.
"We have two volunteers that help on Tuesdays at St. Paul Village in Madisonville,” Moore offers as an example. “Ron was a former ERS employee, and Cheryl was recently able to join us during the summer. Both have been a great help, from preparing meals for residents to take to their apartments to calling Bingo games.”
Another inspiring example of that volunteer spirit, Cindy began visiting Knowlton Place, an ERS community in Northside, last Fall. “She volunteers twice a month helping with the crafts, and on days when lunches or food is provided," Moore noted. Because Cindy is a former preschool teacher with a natural flair for engaging with others, she’s become invaluable – not only for her crafts expertise but for keeping the lessons entertaining and friendly.
Many people want to make a difference but find it more comfortable to volunteer as part of an established group. St. Paul Village is fortunate to have two volunteer music groups that entertain residents on alternate weeks.
Moore points out that this arrangement is an excellent example of the kinds of mutually beneficial opportunities that often come with volunteering. In this instance, the bands get extra time perfecting their performances for upcoming gigs, and the residents get to enjoy the music.
“It is a win-win for everyone,” Moore said.
Additional volunteer groups have also made a real difference in the lives of residents in ERS communities, according to Sue Koch, Activity & Volunteer Supervisor for the ERS Affordable Living team.
Nor do those groups have to be large ones, Koch stresses. “For example, during their first semester at Xavier University, three students came to Elberon Apartments in Cincinnati on Thursdays. Sometimes they planned an activity and sometimes they helped me. The residents love having students join us.”
Of course, well-established volunteer groups are another important cog in the ERS wheel. Last summer, volunteers from the Association for Professionals in Aging (APA) treated several ERS communities to a series of outdoor festivals. These “Summer Advocacy Cook-outs” happened at Knowlton Place in Northside, The Manse in Walnut Hills, and Madison Villa in Madisonville.
“The APA volunteers did it all – food, entertainment, and activities,” Koch said. The group also returned to Knowlton Place for the 2021 Christmas Party, organized by ATA Board member Mary Mendel. The event provided musical performances, sing-along sessions, and other fun activities.
Facing Unique Challenges
These days, keeping ERS residents, staff, and volunteers safe is more important than ever. Unfortunately, those necessary Covid restrictions have meant a corresponding reduction in interactions between volunteers and ERS community members.
“We honestly have not had as much volunteer involvement since the beginning of 2020,” reports Katrina Traylor, Volunteer Services Manager for Marjorie P. Lee in Cincinnati. Ever-changing guidelines and lockdowns have translated to canceling many regularly-scheduled in-person events.
With constantly changing guidelines – not to mention the occurrence of new COVID-19 variants – it has not been possible to make solid plans for volunteer events, Traylor shared. “Right now I am at a standstill regarding when it will be safe to welcome volunteers back into the communities, as we did prior to the pandemic.”
But even with all of these challenges, many faithful volunteers, along with dedicated ERS staff, have made workarounds happen. Traylor points to volunteer Rich, who has found innovative new ways to help the Marjorie P. Lee retirement community.
Although at certain points during the pandemic he could no longer socialize with residents in person, Rich followed guidelines for outdoor or window-side chats in order to continue to visit. He makes a point of accompanying one memory support resident for outdoor walks and drives her to church services in a nearby neighborhood.
“On top of that, he even called Bingo via Zoom in 2020, when we were unable to have anyone in the community,” Traylor marvels.
“It is thanks to volunteers like Rich that we are able to do all that we do, '' she added. “He is dedicated and caring, bringing concerns about residents to our attention, and has asked if there are other residents who we believe would benefit from his visits. Staff is currently working to discern new residents who may benefit from having a companion like this."