Shortly after my grandfather’s death, Grandmother left the family farm and re-established her home on the outskirts of the nearby town. She went to work establishing a huge garden, grape arbors, fruit orchards, and a well-populated chicken coop. Within a couple a growing seasons, her home was a beehive of activity as she invited neighbors to share in her robust garden, over-supply of eggs, and fresh-picked peaches.
Grandmother maintained her gardens, orchards and chickens until her early 90s. When asked by well-meaning friends and family why she continued to grow such an over-abundance of food, her stock answer was, “I’ve got to help the older folk”. Grandmother was a one-woman brigade to home bound neighbors in the days before “Home Delivered Meals” and s”senior caregiver services” became buzz words. Her home, gardens, and shady lawn served as the local senior center as neighbors gathered to pick and process fresh produce, exchange neighborhood gossip, and make plans to share in meal preparations for ailing neighbors.
The socialization, exercise and commitment to helping others kept Grandmother active, engaged and a role-leader in what today’s elder specialists call “healthy aging”. Grandmother called it “being useful”.
Today, researchers say that the need to help others is the greatest motivation to volunteer and that senior volunteers stay active, feel better and have a sense of purpose about their activities. Additionally, senior volunteers benefit from the physical activity, mental stimulation and emotional connection to others. A study by the Home Instead Senior Care® network highlights that almost 75 percent of senior volunteers overcome a feeling of isolation and about 70 percent overcome feeling depressed.
You can help a senior discover volunteer opportunities by learning more about their past interests:
1. A gardener can assist in community garden plots while offering their wealth of experience to novice gardeners.
2. A home builder can assist with “Habit for Humanity” in a variety of ways.
3. A retired school teacher can serve as a valuable reading mentor in neighborhood schools or libraries.
4. A retired nurse or physician may find volunteering at the local hospital very rewarding.
The Area Agency on Aging and local volunteer groups offer plenty of information about how and where to volunteer. Also, RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) provides volunteer opportunities, as do area houses of worship. Often, neighborhood groups have committees that need volunteers to assist in welcoming new residents or managing administrative duties.
When I share my husband’s bumper crop of vine-ripened tomatoes, yellow squash, and artichokes with my office mates and neighbors, I hope that I am following Grandmother Bertha’s adage to “be useful”.
Do you have a favorite volunteer activity? Please share with our readers’ forum!