The Graying of America
It seems like everyone’s talking about the graying of America. Did you know that the elderly—those over age 85—make up the fastest-growing age group in our nation? This is because our nation is one of the healthiest in the world.
Still, old age sometimes brings frailty, illness, or loneliness for some people.
Some older people live at home and get help from family members, neighbors, and community service agencies when they need it.
Others find they’d rather live in what’s called independent senior housing. These are apartments that offer safety and security features and social activities that appeal to those who are older.
Still, others choose to live in continuing-care retirement communities where they can get housing as well as health care and other services in a campus-like setting.
Older people with special needs, such as multiple health problems, may choose to live in assisted-living facilities, where they can get some health care in addition to private living arrangements. Still, others need nursing-home care that offers round-the-clock, skilled health care and rehabilitation services.
It’s very likely that there are organizations where you live—either community service agencies, independent senior housing, continuing-care retirement communities, assisted-living facilities, or nursing homes—that serve older people and would welcome you as a volunteer.
Many of those places are operated by nonprofit organizations, and they especially need your help in caring for the elderly.
There are lots of reasons you might want to consider volunteering. Here are some reasons that other young people have mentioned:
- To make a difference
- To use a special skill or talent
- To gain experience that can lead to a career
- To make contacts
- To express your faith
- To meet people
- To help others
- To enhance your personal growth or self-esteem
- To have a more balanced life
- To give something back to the community
- To earn service hours for a club or school
- To meet graduation requirements
If any one of these reasons or a combination of them strikes a chord with you, you’re probably ready to try volunteering.
For many young people, being involved in a community organization or activity outside their school or place of worship is just as important as a sport or any other extracurricular activity. For you, it may be even more important. You won’t know until you try.
Some Options to Consider
- Nursing Homes and Assisted Living. You may want to check out a nursing home or assisted-living facility in your area as a possibility for volunteering. Many young people volunteer in nursing homes, and there are many things you can do that will bring joy to their residents and to you. Here are some examples.
- Visiting an Older Person — It may be as simple as visiting a resident or a group of residents once a week, just to talk. Talking with someone who doesn’t have a lot of visitors is a form of volunteering.
- Providing Entertainment — You may have musical talent or dramatic leanings. Come and perform for the residents.
- Joining in an Activity – All homes for the aging schedule social and recreational activities for their residents. You can help with these group activities and events, or you might simply read out loud to one person or more.
To find a nursing home or assisted-living facility in your area, check the yellow pages in the phone book; call your local agency on aging (in the government listings of the phone book).
There are probably housing facilities for older people in or near your community. Senior housing ranges from continuing-care retirement communities to subsidized housing for low- and moderate-income elderly.
While you can visit, read to, or entertain frail, older residents in housing facilities, there are also many active older persons living in these apartments or houses who might welcome your company or assistance. Other volunteer opportunities might include assisting in shopping or errands for a resident, helping with the library or gift shop, setting up a holiday party, or helping with arts and crafts.
Community Services Agencies
In most communities, there are many home- and community-based services available to seniors living at home. Many of the organizations that provide these services need volunteers. Consider these opportunities:
- Helping out at a Senior Center
- Friendly visiting
- Reading aloud
- Helping to deliver meals
- Assisting with chore services
What Do You Do When You Volunteer at a Nursing Home
Here are some starting tips from others who’ve volunteered a lot:
- Choose a volunteer job that interests you.
- Be realistic about your time and schedule. School, work, or after-school sports may prevent you from volunteering during the week, but weekends or holidays may be when they need someone the most.
- Consider how you will get there. Not everyone has their own car or access to public transportation, but you need to plan how you will get to your volunteer commitment.
- Explore a number of options in your community. Below are several resources for helping seniors that you can explore.
- Call or do a website search of local facilities or services.
- Go check them out one by one.
- Ask questions of the volunteer coordinator.
- If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. Be persistent.
- Make a decision that’s comfortable for you.
When you begin your volunteer assignment, make sure you show up when you say you will. Be responsible. Even though you’re not being paid, others will still count on you to be there when you say you will.
Volunteering can be hard work, but don’t ever think that you’re not making a difference. You are. Remember: Just because someone doesn’t always say “Thank you” out loud doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate what you’re doing for them.
The yellow pages are probably the easiest place to start. You can look up phone numbers for assisted living, senior health, and housing services, nursing homes, retirement and life-care communities, home health care, adult day care, etc. These are common yellow pages headings used in many areas of the country. Below are some organizations that may also have useful information for you.
Check with your area agency on aging for any programs that might already exist to help you. Some Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops offer senior volunteering as a badge activity and may have already-established programs.