by Anita Finley
What do we mean by volunteering? There is no single, accepted definition, but it was described in 2005 in the UK code of the Compact, the framework agreement between government and civil society, as “an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or individuals or groups other than [or in addition to] close relatives.” A much longer United Nations definition in 2001 identified three core elements: the activity should not be undertaken “primarily” for financial reward (although expenses and “some token payment” may be allowed); it should be undertaken of an individual’s own free will (although an element of compulsion may be acceptable in schemes such as school students’ community service); and the activity should benefit someone other than the volunteer, while recognizing that they, too, may gain significant benefit.
Elders in your community. The person you’re helping will reap health benefits, and you’ll find you will as well.
Volunteering for an organization that supports older people is a keyway of helping a lonely or socially isolated older person. But a simple friendly chat or phone call can make all the difference, too.
Evidence suggests giving your time in this way could be as valuable to you as the person you support.
It’s likely to boost your self-esteem and sense of purpose. And helping others takes your mind off your own problems for a while.
We are very fortunate to have The Volen Center in Boca Raton and Delray Beach. They have developed excellent volunteer programs, so even if you are inclined to help seniors as a volunteer, you don’t have to create volunteer opportunities by yourself.
If you go to The Volen Center and offer your services, tell them what you would like to do as a volunteer, you can change your life, while helping others.
If you also want to volunteer on your own, here are some suggestions to make it successful:
Share your time
Volunteer for organizations that support older people. These often offer “befriending” schemes for isolated elderly people and rely on volunteers for one-to-one contact as a telephone “buddy,” visitor or driver, or hosting social events for groups.
Start a conversation
It’s not always easy to know who or how to help. A good start is simply to stop and talk to an elderly neighbor if you pass them on the street.
If you think an older person may have trouble hearing or has memory problems, make sure to speak clearly (but don’t shout!).
Pause between sentences and questions to give them chance to digest the information. And allow a little extra time for them to respond – don’t hurry them.
Offer practical help
Do you know an older person who lives alone, rarely leaves the house, has recently suffered a bereavement, is in poor health, disabled, has sight or hearing loss, or doesn’t seem to have close family living nearby?
Ask them if they need any help with tasks such as shopping, posting letters, picking up prescriptions and medicines, or dog-walking.
Offer to accompany them or give them a lift to activities or doctors’ and hospital appointments, the library, hairdressers or faith services.
Your contribution could be as simple as a weekly telephone call to an isolated older person, or extend to regular home visits for a chat and to help with shopping and so on, driving an elderly person to a social event, or even hosting coffee mornings for groups of elderly people.
Help with household tasks
Getting older can make it hard to tackle even simple jobs around the house.
Older people often really appreciate any offer of help with basic chores such as taking out the rubbish, changing light bulbs, fastening sash windows, clearing snow off the path, putting up pictures, and so on.
Share a meal
Older, isolated people often need a hand cooking for themselves, so why not take round an extra plate of hot home-cooked food, or a frozen portion they can heat up or microwave?
As well as being practical, it’s a nice way to share your time with a neighbor
Try to provide the meal in a container that you don’t need back – it’s hard work for both of you to keep track of serving bowls.
The COO of The Volen Center, Jared Policano, and staff are so dedicated, working tirelessly, continuing to make The Volen Center’s programs special. The Board of Directors are also volunteers overseeing the continued effectiveness of this not-for-profit organization. Why don’t you call them at 561-395-8920 or go online to volencenter.com and ask for a tour. You will be as impressed as I am!