Many rewards to be found in volunteerism
May 1, 2022 | View PDF
Q: I am the leader of a youth group who is looking for volunteer activities. Are there young-person friendly organizations where we can lend a hand to seniors?
A: Yes, there are. May is Older Americans Month, which annually celebrates contributions seniors make to their communities and to the nation. This year’s theme, “Age My Way,” focuses on aging in place – how older adults can plan to stay in their homes and live independently in their communities for as long as possible.
Help with chores, fixes
With the 2022 theme in mind, one suggestion would be to find an older adult within your own nonprofit community who may be open to getting help with housekeeping chores, yard work or painting. Minor repairs to latches, hinges or cabinet drawers are an annoyance if left unaddressed, but spending money to get fixes made isn’t always easy. Trustworthy, dependable, and reasonably priced individuals can be difficult for a senior to find and vet. No doubt a few youthful volunteers to sweep driveways, clear gutters or rake the yard would be greatly appreciated.
Another idea would be to partner with local contractors who are certified as Aging-in-Place specialists. The National Association of Home Builders has the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation program which trains people in the technical, business management, and customer service skills necessary for the fastest growing segment of the residential remodeling industry: home modifications for those aging-in-place. These specialists are in the construction, plumbing, heating, cooling, remodeling industries, and are other allied professionals that serve the aging in place market. Additionally, a CAPS designation includes occupational therapists, physical therapists, real estate professionals, and trade contractors, as well as academics who work with seniors. Find professional resources in your area here: https://www.nahb.org/other/consumer-resources.
Put in some social time
Intergenerational socialization between seniors and young people through shared time and experiences benefits all generations. Older adults look forward to talking, baking, doing crafts, reading stories, singing songs, playing music, having meals, or even sharing pet visits with children and young adults. Engagement keeps seniors mentally fit while also helping youth better understand the nuances of aging.
“Intergenerational programming,” as defined by the National Council on Aging, involves those “activities or programs that increase cooperation, interaction or exchange between any two generations. It involves the sharing of skills, knowledge or experience between old and young.” Your youth group sharing their talents and time would be welcomed by retirement communities, assisted living, skilled-nursing settings, or home and community-based living environments. Reach out to activity coordinators in those facilities to find the best matches for your group.
Closing the generational gap where elder citizens don’t feel appreciated or wanted, and a misunderstanding of older adults by youth can be positively fostered by more frequent interactions. Younger people are sometimes intimidated to open themselves up to older adults for fear of being judged. They also may be afraid to approach an elderly person with an illness like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease because they don’t understand how to act around someone with those conditions. By bringing older adults and youth together, age-related stereotypes can be reduced, stronger community ties are built, leading to improved services for older adults and children.
At home in the community
According to AARP, nearly 90% of adults over 65 want to remain in their current homes as they grow older. While some older adults may feel comfortable obtaining assistance as they age, many others prefer to maintain their sense of independence to improve quality of life. Aging in place allows older adults to retain a level of control over their lives, remain in familiar spaces, while still satisfying their basic needs in their own neighborhoods. Adults who can remain in their communities are better able to maintain social interactions as part of their daily lives. Living an active social life helps prevent dementia. Keeping community connections and important friendships also contributes to better overall health and well-being. Any assistance your youth group could provide to aid older adults address safety issues, healthy eating, transportation, chores, or exchange conversation will improve the quality of a senior’s life.
Karen Casanovas is a professional healthy aging coach in Alaska helping individuals or families collaborate, find resources and design a plan for thriving and living well whether age 35, 50 or 90. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her website www.karencasanovas.com.