Volunteerism in Older Adulthood

This past week, I had the pleasure of working with the volunteers who run and operate Highland Park Access Television. They had asked me to come to the station to speak about the benefits of Assisted Living. The experience brought my attention to the value that volunteering can bring to the lives of seniors. Highland Park Access Television is quite unique because it is operated and run entirely by volunteers over the age of 65.  The Highland Park Senior TV Production Team known as Highland Park Senior Producers is affiliated with Highland Park Senior Center, and each month they produce a 30-minute program that features agency programs and services available through CJE SeniorLife. The participants’ average age is the mid-seventies. They recruit for show producers, directors, camera operators, audio technicians, and character generator operators. Some producers have physical limitations, but there is a job for everyone. It truly takes a team to complete a show.
There has been an influx of older adults choosing to volunteer later in life. Currently, we have a dozen older adult volunteers at the assisted living community in which I work who conduct lectures, educational seminars, lead religious services, help serve at mealtime and assist in creative arts programming.
According to the Administration on Aging, volunteering by older adults (65 and older) has increased in recent years. A recent report by The Corporation for National and Community Service states that the number of older adults who serve as volunteers has risen from 7.7 million in 2002 to 9.1 million in 2009. There are many benefits for older adults when volunteering, for example their physical and mental health can improve. Some benefits to volunteerism include: 1. Sense of purpose and self-worth. 2. Improved mental and physical health. 3. Increased confidence in one’s ability to make a difference in the community. 4. Greater social support and community involvement. 5. Exposure to new experiences and perspectives. 6. Increased connection to younger generation. Some feel that volunteering also helps to decrease loneliness. Chicago Bridger Sharon Belloff’s post “Volunteerism: One Remedy for Loneliness in Aging” highlights how loneliness in older adults can be more harmful than smoking and how having an older adult engaged in volunteering decreases feelings of loneliness and depression. For many years, my grandmother volunteered at Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe. She would greet guests and work with inter-city youth to give them an experience in gardening and identifying vegetables. She spoke of her volunteer work with great enthusiasm, achievement and happiness. It provided her with a sense of worth and gave her a purpose. I feel it contributed positively to her mental health. Specifically, age can be a factor of the positive benefits of volunteering. While younger volunteers may be volunteering out of obligation, older adults see volunteering as having a sense of purpose.
How can older adults get involved in volunteering?
There are many volunteer opportunities for older adults in the Chicago Area. Some specific opportunities are available at the local hospitals, religious institutions, museums, retirement communities, and libraries. As described by Chicago Bridger Jeff Nelson, The Jane Addams Hull House Association’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program provides the opportunity for older adults to volunteer at over 137 nonprofit organizations. It is never too late to give back to the community. No matter how old you may be, there is always an opportunity to find meaning and to make a difference especially by volunteering. Thanks to Martha Tierney for editing this post and Jonathan Schmid for the photo.

One Comment

  • Aloka shah

    Awesome article…learned a lot from it

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