By Cathy Bollinger, managing director of Embracing Aging, York County Community Foundation
Feelings of isolation, lack of purpose, and disconnectedness impact the well-being of all residents, especially as people grow older.
Regardless of your age, in the past month, have you felt:
• Pleased about having accomplished something?
• Lonely or remote from other people?
• Proud because someone complimented you on something you had done?
• Particularly excited or interested in something?
• That you are contributing to something that matters?
Now think about the way you spend your time and your opportunities for interacting and getting involved in your community. Have you visited with family/friends? Have you attended a social/cultural event or faith-based service? Did you visit a community or senior center, exercise, play a game, learn something new, go to a paid job, volunteer, or be part of an informal group? Are you satisfied with the options you have, or do you see room for improvement?
If your satisfaction with your life is low and your engagement with others is minimal, what are the reasons? And what can be done to change the situation?
For many older adults, their reasons are a result of diminishing circles of connectedness. Whether due to retirement, family or friends moving away, diminishing health, lack of transportation, or lack of funds, their chances for social interaction dwindle. And when this happens, they might need a gentle nudge to either step outside their comfort zone to volunteer or to know that volunteer programs exist. According to YCCF’s 2016 YorkCounts Aging Indicators, almost 25% of people age 65 and older living in York County live alone. While living alone doesn’t always equate to feelings of isolation and disengagement, it might.
York County Community Foundation’s Embracing Aging initiative is working to understand and care about the needs and perspectives of all ages, resulting in a community that is a safe, welcoming, appropriate, and adaptable place to age.
That’s why Embracing Aging was happy to award a $59,262 two-year grant to SpiriTrust Lutheran, Jewish Family Services, and RSVP (Retired Seniors Volunteer Program) for a collaborative program designed to help enrich opportunities for older adults to become more engaged in the community as a volunteer to help others in the community.
After a year of researching best practices, hosting meetings, and speaking with older York Countians to better understand their reasons for not engaging as a volunteer, a pilot of a program “Senior Volunteer Opportunities-New Connections, Meaningful Choices” will launch in late March 2017. The pilot will test new marketing strategies for reaching older adults regarding volunteer opportunities, as well as a new central volunteer recruitment entry point designed to streamline ways seniors are matched with meaningful ways to share their time and talents. The pilot also provides opportunities to socialize with other volunteers across York County, while learning about new topics that are applicable to both volunteering and their personal lives.
By removing barriers to volunteering, the goal is to have more older adults sharing their time and talents in York County. Whether volunteering with other seniors, or with children and younger adults, we know a streamlined and robust volunteering system will impact many. It’s a win-win for increasing well-being in individuals, and for creating a community that fosters engagement for all ages.
SpiriTrust Lutheran, Jewish Family Services, and RSVP are currently recruiting up to fifty older adults to be a part of the Senior Volunteer Opportunities-New Connections, Meaningful Choices pilot program. They’re looking for a combination of novice and seasoned volunteers from across the county. To learn more about participating in this pilot, contact Carol Miller at 717-843-5011.
Some questions in this article were inspired by a survey designed by Clarin Collins, Ph.D., Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust for the Arizona Community AGEnda Project. To learn more about Embracing Aging and York County Community Foundation, visit www.yccf.org. To learn more about the YorkCounts Aging Indicators, visit http://www.yorkcounts.org/aging.