The abounding opportunities for seniors to volunteer are not only beneficial for their communities but for senior volunteers as well.
The first step in finding a volunteer opportunity is often a familiar step, one toward an organization or cause the would-be senior volunteer already cares about or one that involves people they’re already acquainted with.
It may involve activities and skills the volunteer-to-be already possesses or it may require learning something new. That’s a good thing.
Local opportunities in Middle Georgia are as far ranging as swinging a hammer to build homes with Habitat for Humanity to teaching life skills or serving meals to help homeless people through outreaches such as Macon’s Daybreak Center or Houston County’s Family Promise.
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It may mean getting involved in practical ways with local organizations such as the American Red Cross and Scouting programs or civic clubs such as Rotary or Lions clubs. It could be with medical-related organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Macon Volunteer Clinic and other community clinics or efforts such as Make-A-Wish and Relay for Life.
One easy path to volunteering could be through a person’s house of worship.
“People sometimes forget their local church is really a volunteer organization run by volunteers,” said Bobby Robinson, senior adult pastor at Mabel White Baptist Church in Macon. “There’s a big need for senior adults in almost every aspect. Some of the things seniors do around here is serve as greeters. There’s a group that sews blankets to give to newborns at local neonatal care units. Others help with Toys for Tots and serve our military families. Some ring bells for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle drive at Christmas and others teach classes. One thing that really helps the church and that seniors tend to get a lot of joy out of is serving in the nursery. There’s so many opportunities, many that people never think of.”
Robinson said opportunities are available outside the church, too, through hospital and nursing home ministries, trips where seniors provide humanitarian aid and services such as repairing homes in blighted or disaster-torn neighborhoods and outings around Macon to meet the church’s neighbors.
He said he and other senior and spiritual leaders are often familiar with volunteer opportunities and are more than happy to point potential volunteers in the right direction.
Another source for guidance into volunteering is through local senior centers such as the Macon-Bibb Senior Center on Adams Street or the Senior Citizen Services activity center on Maple Street in Warner Robins.
“We have a lot of seniors volunteering right here serving other seniors,” said Melanie Lewis, director at the Warner Robins senior center. “We have seniors teaching yoga, aerobics, self-defense, wood shop, quilting and watercolor. We also help seniors find volunteer roles with groups like Happy Hour (the Houston County Association for Exceptional Citizens), Houston Medical Center and through social clubs and other worthwhile organizations. The opportunities are there.”
As a professional working with senior citizens, Lewis said she knows the opportunities and the benefits that volunteering provides.
“The benefits mostly revolve around socialization and the mental and physical benefits that brings,” she said. “You can see the difference between a person who sits at home and the one who gets out and makes a difference. Volunteering helps relieve depression and anxiety in seniors. Sitting at home watching the news all day can have terrible results without the balance of interaction with others and seeing the good going on around you. Being part of that good, contributing and making a difference in other people’s lives, that makes a huge difference.”
A study called “The Health Benefits of Volunteering -- A Review of Recent Research” by the Corporation for National and Community Service corroborates Lewis’ claims. Among its findings is the fact that older volunteers are the most likely to receive physical and mental health benefits from their volunteer activities and that the volunteering benefits of adults 65 and older are in part due to the personal sense of accomplishment gained from volunteer activities.
The study reported volunteer activities strengthen social ties that protect older individuals from isolation during difficult times, while the experience of helping others leads to a sense of greater self-worth and trust.
One significant area of volunteer need is with children. Though such volunteer efforts typically require simple background checks or other clearances to ensure child safety, these volunteer roles for seniors can be the most rewarding.
Look to organizations such as Big Brothers-Big Sisters or Boys and Girls Clubs. Or look to a giant opportunity for senior volunteers: public and private schools.
“We not only welcome but we really appreciate our senior volunteers’ wealth of experience and knowledge,” said Taryn Collingsworth of Communities in Schools, the organization that serves Bibb County school’s volunteer program. “We take that knowledge into account. A lot of times we only think about volunteering to read to little kids but there are opportunities to mentor and speak to older kids, too. We operate a speaker’s bureau that doesn’t require a regular commitment like some programs. We need seniors as proctors during testing. Seniors have a lot to offer and we need them.”
There are other avenues of volunteerism beside typical service areas. There are opportunities related to animals through humane societies and shelters. There are opportunities to bring smiles and entertainment to neighbors through community choirs, theater groups and grand productions such as The Nutcracker of Middle Georgia. Or there’s just going and playing piano at a day care center.
The opportunities are there and they’re almost endless. Guidance is available and most organization leaders say they don’t mind if seniors test the water before making a commitment. The benefits of giving a little go a long way toward helping those in need and toward enriching the lives of the givers.