Appreciation for Alaskans who volunteer

If you have a special talent or skill that may benefit a charity or organization, then now may be the ideal to offer your services or ask how you can be of help. April is National Volunteer Month and it is dedicated to honoring all of the volunteers in our communities as well as encouraging volunteerism throughout the month.

For many of us, volunteerism was instilled at a young age. Scores of organizations in small towns, rural counties, and the largest cities would not function without volunteers. In some families, the baton of volunteerism is handed down generation after generation. In some communities, volunteers are the backbone of many of the programs helping older adults and those living below the poverty line.

National Volunteer Week began in Canada in 1943 to help recognize the contributions of women during World War II. In the United States, National Volunteer Week started in 1974 and President George H. W. Bush in 1991 expanded national volunteer week to the entire month of April. It is now estimated that more than 60 million adults in the U.S. report performing some sort of volunteer work.

"Volunteerism plays a vital role in Alaska, including in the long-term care sector. Alaska has a strong culture of neighbors helping neighbors and stepping up to meet community needs," said Alvin J. Ancheta, Alaska's Deputy Long Term Care Ombudsman and Volunteer Coordinator in Anchorage. "For our program, we are fortunate to have dedicated volunteers not only in the Municipality of Anchorage, Chugiak and Eagle River area, but also throughout the state, including the Kenai Peninsula, Fairbanks, Bethel, and southeast Alaska in Juneau."

He said all these volunteers are essential in expanding the state's capacity to visit facilities, engage with residents, and advocate on their behalf across a large and geographically diverse state. "Their compassion and commitment make a real difference in the lives of long-term care residents in their communities," said Ancheta.

In many rural areas, fire and ambulance departments are made up of a cadre of volunteers. Volunteering for a suicide hotline can be life-changing after listening to someone desperate and alone. Working at soup kitchens and delivering meals can also be highly rewarding for volunteers.

"For older adults considering volunteering, I would encourage them to find opportunities that align with their interests, utilize their unique skills and experiences, and allow them to positively impact others," said Ancheta. "Volunteering with the long-term care ombudsman program, for example, is a wonderful way for seniors to form meaningful connections with elders in their community, while ensuring their voices are heard and rights are upheld."

He said that whatever form it takes, volunteering can enrich your life with purpose, social engagement, and the knowledge that you are making a difference. When it comes to volunteering, he said first decide your interests and investigate opportunities that align with your passions. It might involve wildlife, history, recreation, education or cultural preservation.

It is hoped during April that a spotlight can be shined on those who have already taken the time out of their day to help others in a multitude of different ways.

"It also shines a light on those areas still needing coverage and encourages those who have not taken the official step into doing so. It is a calling as well as a celebration," said Aria Moore, who is with Catholic Community Service and the site manager for the Juneau Senior Center.

She said it is extremely difficult to find time to get all the volunteers together for a thank you party. "I have tried to find a time that would work for a majority, but we still have quite a few who are still working and come to deliver the meals on their lunch break," Moore said. "I would throw a party every week to celebrate my volunteers if I could. They deserve every amount of praise."

The local Meals on Wheels program would be impossible without volunteers, Moore said. It delivers to up to 120 home clients, many of whom are unable to cook for themselves. "We have had some terrible weather this past month and I've done quite a lot of filling in to try to get out as many meals as possible. I was reminded how much of (the volunteers') work is necessary to our daily tasks," said Moore. "They are the eyes and ears in regard to our clients."

Ancheta said National Volunteer Week is an important opportunity to recognize the invaluable contributions that volunteers make in advocating for the rights, dignity and wellbeing of long-term care residents.

"Our program deeply appreciates our dedicated volunteer ombudsmen. While we don't typically hold a specific event for the week, we make an effort to express our heartfelt thanks to them through personalized cards and acknowledgments," said Ancheta.

Rewarding opportunities

Moore said that when you get out and serve, it is a hugely rewarding opportunity. It gives the volunteer an insight into places around town that they wouldn't normally see.

"I am able to meet the most wonderful people, who I wouldn't have met unless working this job. I get to hear stories I would never hear about. I know many of the volunteers feel the same. They come back to me with such devotion and care when discussing their routes," said Moore. Countless clients have said the volunteer bringing them a meal is the only person they see in a day.

"That is an honor to be able to bring joy to someone," said Moore. "There are also other opportunities all over Juneau. If one volunteer position is out of your physical means or time, there are many other places you can join."

Teresa Holt is the state director of AARP Alaska and it has more than 100 volunteers across the state. "We do our volunteer appreciation by mail. Each year, we send our volunteers a gift and a thank you card. We also highlight volunteers in our newsletter each month. Every year we honor one amazing volunteer with the Andrus Award, named after our founder Ethel Percy Andrus, whose motto was 'To serve, not to be served'," said Holt.

AARP volunteers are successful each year in advocating for issues important to seniors during the legislative session. Volunteers are the backbone for AARP events in local communities, such as hosting free movies for members at local theaters, AARP night at the baseball game, discounted golf league and much more. Upcoming events are listed at

AARP Alaska has local community action teams in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Juneau, Ketchikan and Fairbanks that work to make changes in their community to make it more friendly for those age 50-plus.

"We have volunteers who advocate for changes in the Alaska legislature and with our members of Congress. We also have volunteers who help with our online events. There are so many places to volunteer in Alaska," said Holt. You can find volunteer opportunities in your local community at

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