Seniors find great satisfaction in volunteering to help peers, others
By Liz O'Connor
Photo by CNS
LEVITTOWN, Pa. (CNS)—Retirees form the core of volunteer programs across the United States, offering important services especially to the elderly—some of whom are younger than the volunteers.
In the Diocese of Syracuse, N.Y., for example, where Donna Nash coordinates Catholic Charities services for the aging, the majority of volunteers are themselves seniors.
They deliver Meals on Wheels, visit the homebound to provide companionship and outreach, offer a reassuring daily phone call to elderly individuals who live alone, offer counseling on tax preparation and dealing with insurance companies, function as nursing home ombudsmen, give a friendly check to elderly people discharged from hospitals to make sure they’re doing all right, and provide other services.
Stacey Lazurek, who coordinates a visitor program through Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., said the majority of her volunteers are seniors. She trains and matches about 100 volunteers to help older adults who are essentially homebound.
Mike Kronn, who is 74, has been a regular visitor to a few people during the past two years and is also on call if someone needs a driver in a pinch.
Visiting those who are very ill “isn’t always pleasant,” Kronn said, but there’s great satisfaction in knowing he’s brought pleasure into someone’s life.
Kronn noted that volunteers are screened and informed about not getting involved in dispensing medications and not lifting a disabled patient because that might endanger the elderly volunteer’s own health.
Sue Jepson, 70, is legally blind and has some difficulty walking, but that doesn’t stop her from being active in several organizations and volunteering three or four days a week at the “Loaves and Fishes” program of her local senior center.
She sets the table, helps serve lunch, and gets coffee for people who range in age from 62 to 90. “I like helping others, it keeps me from just being bored,” she said in an interview from her home at Catholic Charities-affiliated Caritas Villa in Portland, Ore.
She enjoys “seeing people have a better day” because of a program in which she’s involved. She said those who come to the senior center also play bingo, listen to music and “do a lot of chatting.”
Being a senior citizen herself, she said, “I kind of can understand where they’re coming from.” Legally blind from birth, she said she cared for her own parents for 12 years and before that “worked lots of places—usually with people.” She said she has lots of memories and is “still making them.”
Cindy Hamberg, 64, recently started running an osteoporosis prevention program called “Bone Builders” at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Winona, Minn.
The group is for people as young as 55 and in their 90s and uses carefully graduated weight-bearing exercise to strengthen muscles, build bone density and improve balance.
“Word is getting out that people need to watch themselves,” and she said she now has about 40 who come regularly. Hamberg is energetic and enthusiastic, saying, “I love it, I really love it,” and she loves the fact that she can help people who couldn’t afford to go to a gym.
“It gets me off the couch, too,” she said. “What a powerful feeling volunteering is!”