Senior Volunteers Vital To Community

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Senior volunteers are responsible for the success of not only many of the Rim Country’s nonprofit groups, but for similar organizations throughout the country. They are critical to groups like the Payson Area Habitat for Humanity, the groups serving other seniors such as the Senior Citizens centers of both Payson and Pine and the thrift stores operated by the two facilities; the “Pink Ladies” serving Payson Regional Medical Center’s patients and staff; the Library Friends groups in both Payson and Pine; the Humane Society of Central Arizona; the Friends of Payson Parks; youth groups; and so much more.

Look anywhere in the nonprofit world these days and you’re likely to find an older adult volunteering his or her expertise in new ways. From the board room to the building site, organizations are putting those 50 and older to work to meet a rising demand for charitable services. In the process, members of the most experienced active generation are discovering the possibilities of giving back on their own terms.

So what’s powering the boom in older adult skilled volunteering? There’s a revolution under way in how nonprofits are asking for help, and this group is ready to make a difference during the recession.

Two million more baby boomers and close to 800,000 people 65 and older volunteered in 2008, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service — making the current crop of older adults the most socially engaged in three decades. At the same time, organizations are designing creative new roles for volunteers who have expertise. Many organizations are posting them online at VolunteerMatch.org, where more than 10,000 nonprofits have signed up since the start of the recession.

According to recent research by VolunteerMatch, older adults in particular tend to have interests that are more specific than many other demographics. Even traditional barriers to involvement, like geographic distance, can be overcome by a committed older volunteer.

Find skilled volunteer opportunities at www.volunteermatch.org.

Hidden opportunities in volunteers

Is there a silver lining to the hard economic times in our country? Even if you are experiencing challenging times, there is a way to lift your spirits while filling a need in your community. The message of public service is one Americans have been reminded of by President Barack Obama’s administration, however, finding a time and place for it can be challenging. That is unless you ask volunteers like Jeff Veum.

“I wanted to feel useful and productive, and get some structure back in my life,” says Veum, a volunteer at Little Brothers — Friends of the Elderly, a national network of nonprofit, volunteer-based organizations committed to relieving isolation and loneliness among the elderly. After his wife accepted a new job out of state, Veum soon found himself moving to a new community and searching for work. He decided to offer his time to help others in need, and in turn, received much more than he expected.

“People who are not employed — voluntarily or otherwise — lose more than just a paycheck, but also the feeling of belonging to a team and working with others for a common purpose. I gained back that sense of belonging and meaningfulness through my volunteer experience,” Veum says. As an added bonus, Veum was able to network with other volunteers, which helped in his job search.

“We have seen an influx in the number of Americans looking for an outlet to share their skills and time in order to help others,” says Lea Ames, national executive director, Little Brothers — Friends of the Elderly. “In fact, our volunteers have increased at a rate of 5.4 percent in our U.S. chapters over the last year.”

“Volunteering has allowed me to keep my skills current and I consider it a worthwhile experience and one that I can put on my resume,” adds 38-year-old Keisha Connelly of Philadelphia, who has been volunteering for LBFE for more than 10 years. “It’s a win-win situation as I have computer and publishing skills that I can give. In return I have gained wisdom from the elders I come in contact with.”

Whatever your economic status, there are benefits that can be realized when you set aside time to provide needed service in your community. In addition, there may be hidden benefits for those trying to build up their resume for getting back out in the work force.

Here are some tips for turning volunteer opportunities into something more:

• Use the volunteer experience as an opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and perhaps develop an expertise that you haven’t been able to fully tap in your current or past job. This will only help to build your portfolio and show your depth of skills and outgoing attitude. Volunteering can be as valuable as an internship and provide a bridge between work experiences.

• We often hear about the importance of networking and what better time than now to expand on the contacts you have. Whether you are a volunteer and/or full-time employee of an organization, getting out and meeting people from different walks of life can help you make key connections or even a new friend.

• As a volunteer, you will find yourself gaining a new perspective on life and seeing the good in people around you. Many volunteers will tell you that they are rewarded by the positive reinforcement they receive from “giving back.”

• As an added benefit, volunteering can also provide a new direction for people in the job or career that they want to pursue moving forward. You may enrich your life by developing a new facet of it through volunteering and the new people and experiences that you encounter.

• Look around your own community for volunteer opportunities that can fit into your lifestyle.

Little Brothers — Friends of the Elderly is celebrating its 50th anniversary of service in the United States this year and will commemorate with special visits and social events for “Old Friends” this fall. Contact www.littlebrothers.org or call 312-786-1032 to see if there is a chapter in your community.

No matter what your circumstances, making the most of your free time can benefit both you and those around you. You can find a way to reveal that silver lining in today’s challenging times.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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