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Tapping Experience for Impact: Engaging Older Volunteers

Older Americans Volunteer and Live United

Average life expectancy has grown by 30 years in some areas of the world. All sorts of factors contribute to long lives; but more and more, we are learning that volunteering contributes to a healthy and independent lifestyle no matter what our age, but especially for older adults.

May is Older Americans Month and May 18-22 is Senior Corps Week, when the Corporation for National and Community Service promotes the value of older adult volunteering and highlights the impact that the agency’s RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), Foster Grandparent, and Senior Companion programs have on America’s communities.

With the Corporation and through our own initiatives, United Ways are connecting the skills and passion of seniors to community needs, and as a result, increasing the health and vitality of all involved. For example, with the help of senior volunteers, United Way of Bay County’s RSVP Community Garden in Michigan grows roughly 2,500 pounds of fruits and vegetables per year that are distributed by Hidden Harvest to shelters, food pantries and hunger relief organizations. Now in its 12th year, the program allows senior volunteers to grow and harvest the produce in the community garden or donate from their personal gardens.

Volunteering is also an opportunity for seniors to help their peers. In Minnesota, Greater Twin Cities United Way works with partners to train older individuals to educate their peers on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provide application assistance to those who meet the guidelines. To date, senior volunteers have conducted over 1,000 screenings and helped almost 500 people complete applications, connecting a record number of seniors to the health and financial benefits of SNAP.

United Way of Central Iowa’s “older adult” volunteer effort began more than 42 years ago. Today, the 55+ Initiative is attracting even more volunteers by focusing on individuals who have already given to the United Way for a decade. A simple email sent to “loyal contributors” ages 55 and older asked for mentors for school-aged children.  In no time, 15 people responded, eager to engage more deeply in United Way’s work.

Tapping in to the wisdom, experience and enthusiasm of seniors could do a world of good for them and your community. I hope you’ll tweet #SeniorCorpsworks or #SeniorsInService to show support for older adult volunteering, and contact your local United Way to find opportunities for volunteers of all ages.