I read about an elderly lady who was so lonely, abandoned and in need of help that after being homebound for 7 years, she finally wrote a note and managed to put it on a neighbor’s door. In the note, she wrote how she was lonely, scared and needed help. It was a heart-wrenching story that had a happy ending because the neighbor who was a young woman, responded. Many people who read about it, including me had their heart touched thinking of how sad and alone this elderly lady must have felt. I’m sure it evoked the same feelings in other readers wanting to reach out to someone as it did for me. Many times, we are moved to want to do something, and for most of us, if it is convenient, we are happy to do so. Putting money in a red bucket as we walk by, filling up a grocery bag with our cans of food when the boy scouts come to collect, or donating clothes and household items when we need to make room in a closet, makes us feel a little better about ourselves. While these things are indeed good, there is another option that may benefit all involved.
Most of us have volunteered at some time in our lives. Around the holidays especially, It seems easy to volunteer and our icy hearts melt a bit. But often, just like the seasons change, the novelty wanes and our hearts may cool off as the holiday season ends and winter sets in. Life gets busy and the warm fuzzy commercials end. As we get older, our funds may be limited, or it may be more difficult to get around. We may not feel as valued or needed. The reality is as we get older, we actually have so much more to give, money aside.
As we age, we gain an understanding. An understanding about people and how everyone is precious and important. That there is some good in the majority of people we come in contact with. We understand how 30 minutes out of our day occasionally will not destroy our schedule or detract from it, but may make a big difference in the lives of others. In fact, we may find that we want to volunteer for longer periods of time. We also come to understand that by giving of ourselves, we acquire true fulfillment, happiness and grow in character. We start to understand what’s really important.
For many, as we age, our tight, busy schedules begin to loosen up a little. Although time is precious because we have less of it in the long run, we realize that taking a minute to smell the roses, laugh with a child or read a good book might now feel like the most worthwhile event of the day. Meetings, conference calls, and evaluations might become less important. For many, jobs finally become simply jobs and our focus on important things like people, kindness and expressing feelings comes to the forefront of our mind. Yes, we may become a little more forgetful, but that’s simply because the excess thoughts fall out and we keep the more important things in mind.
We’ve got skills. We can be great volunteers because we’ve got the experience. Over the years, through our lives we’ve made mistakes, we’ve insulted, we’ve embarrassed, we’ve overlooked and we’ve hurt and been hurt. We’ve said time and time again how if given that opportunity again we’d do it differently or better. We have handled businesses, managed employees, taught procedure and practiced diplomacy. We are a bit polished up and have wisdom to help us.
Whether you are around the age of 55, or nearer to 85, you are at a fabulous age! Whether you are able to run marathons, or can just lift a pen you can help. You have been preparing your whole life for this moment. You are ready and capable to help someone, to be a good influence and/or to make a difference. You know more than you ever have and instead of feeling washed up, you should be excited! There are opportunities in store for someone like you.
I am fortunate to belong to a church that values all ages. Many of our leaders, both men and women, are in their 80’s and 90’s. They volunteer many hours in church and humanitarian service, in teaching, in community service and working with the youth. In my mid 50’s, I sometimes whine about being tired or inconvenienced, then catch myself. I look at the elderly people around me and to their example. They’ve got health problems, new hips and new knees, their sight might be fading, but their vision is clear. They see what is important. They are strong in spirit and don’t complain. They are an inspiration.
Volunteering isn’t as big of a sacrifice or commitment as one might think. It’s not necessary to give up every episode of Wheel of Fortune or Bingo Night. When we volunteer, a wonderful thing happens, we seem to have the time we need to meet our other responsibilities. It works out. Also, studies show that seniors who volunteer are happier, enjoy a broader sociality and live longer! As we help others, our lives become enriched and we feel needed.
If you are unsure, here are a few places to start;
- Your local Senior Center has many opportunities. They would love to have you volunteer serving lunch, quilting, entertain, help with Home meals delivery or many other choices.
- Care and Assisted living centers are happy to receive volunteers and have different things to do. You might teach a class or lead in a sing-along. You can help write letters, help with fun activities or just visit or read with someone.
- You don’t even have to leave home for this one. Write On is a website that has various ways to become a pen pal to people who need you. The Elderly, shut-ins, and kids are just some of the choices.
- Homeless shelters or Women’s shelters are always in need of some help. Whether it be fundraising or assisting in some way, this is a very worthwhile cause.
- Animal Shelters welcome volunteers with open paws. They are always in need of help in the way of answering phones, emails, walking dogs and fundraising. You might even find a new furry friend.
A good way to start is with a small assignment. This prevents us from becoming overwhelmed and guilt ridden. We can always increase the amount of time or amount of responsibilities. If we have to quit or cut back, it may cause us to feel discouragement and less likely to volunteer in the future. We know our limitations and situations. When volunteering, it’s good to have boundaries and to pick our own schedule. When we communicate our desires and limitations, we feel more in control and feel less resentment and the person who is in charge also has a clear idea of what to expect from us.
However you decide to share yourself and your time with others, know that it is valued. There are so many needs in each community that there is never a shortage of opportunities. We just have to search, inquire, and then get ready to shine and recognize that only good can come from giving of ourselves.