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Never too old to help- Senior volunteers making difference in churches, organizations, communities

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Featured, Senior Living

Published on February 21, 2018 with No Comments

by Steve Euvino

A woman in her 90s is a regular volunteer at her community’s food pantry. Two sisters, both in their 80s, serve Sundays in the lobby of the local hospital. A retired steelworker helps his pastor prepare for weekday services.

Americans love to volunteer. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), one in four Americans volunteers. The CNCS reports 62.6 million U.S. adults volunteered nearly 7.7 billion hours in 2013. In 2016, those combined volunteer hours were valued at $184 billion.

That community service extends to older Americans as well.  According to national figures, older Americans tend to volunteer more hours than younger people. The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the median annual volunteer service hours at 52 per person; for those ages 65 and older, the median was 96 hours annually.

In 2015, the CNCS reports, those ages 65-74 volunteered 88 median hours annually; the 75-plus group served an average of 100 hours.

With this nation’s 78 million baby boomers well into their 60s, those volunteer hours are expected to grow, as boomers are vital and stable. Today, many senior volunteers continue doing through service what they once did professionally.

“I see the incredible value of volunteers’ commitment every day,” said Nancy A. Leamond, an executive vice president of AARP (formerly American Association of Retired Persons), an organization which alone relies on more than 58,000 volunteers.

Why do people volunteer? According to an AARP survey of people ages 45-plus, the top reasons are all about giving back and making a difference in their communities and helping people in need.

Studies have shown older volunteers are more likely to volunteer mainly for religious organizations than are younger volunteers. The Department of Labor reports that of volunteers 65-plus, 42.7 percent served through or for a faith-based organization, compared to 25.4 percent of volunteers ages 16-24.

National statistics also show that while the majority of senior volunteers was approached by a church or other organization to help, many seniors simply volunteered on their own.

Many groups, realizing the value of senior support, understand the capabilities and unique needs of this age group to facilitate volunteerism.

Utilizing current technology, organizations such as AARP and United Way are making it easier for seniors to connect with a potential volunteer site.

By going online to www.aarp.org/giving-back, seniors can provide some basic information and see what is available. All the user has to do is go on the AARP Volunteer Opportunity Board, which requests three pieces of information: the senior’s interests, his/her zip code, and preferable distance for traveling to a volunteer site.

Lake Area United Way offers a similar service. One link is www.lauw.org/volunteer. Another is the link for Volunteer Lake County, an initiative of LAUW. Its website is www.volunteerlakecounty.org. Go under “Find Volunteer Opportunities” and three boxes will appear: key words (one’s interests), city and state and/or zip code, and distance.

The Chronicle tested the system, using mentoring as the key word, Hobart as the city, and “any” distance. Ten agencies using mentors appeared on the screen.

United Way of Porter County administers the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). This is America’s largest volunteer network for those ages 55-plus, with 500,000 senior volunteers nationwide. RSVP provides an opportunity to learn new skills, utilize skills one already possesses, meet new people, and become involved in activities that benefit the local community.

RSVP volunteers assist at hospitals, food banks, and shelters. They may also help at day-care centers, do administrative, clerical work, or do tax preparation for low-income clients or other seniors.

Current RSVP volunteer stations include American Cancer Society, Answer for Pregnancy Aid, Duneland Family YMCA, Hilltop Neighborhood House, Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Memorial Opera House, Pine Village Retirement Communities, Portage Township Bonner Senior Center, Urban League of Northwest Indiana, Taltree Arboretum & Gardens, VNA Porter County, and Westchester Public Library.

Membership to RSVP is free, as is volunteer placement. One needs to visit www.unitedwaypc.org to learn more or print out an application form, which may be mailed to United Way RSVP, 951 Eastport Centre, Valparaiso IN 46383.

Why do people volunteer? According to an AARP survey of people ages 45-plus, the top reasons are all about giving back and making a difference in their communities and helping people in need.

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