“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands — one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” — Audrey Hepburn
Many North Texas seniors — those 65 and older — report that volunteering gives them a sense of purpose, satisfaction and well-being in their retirement years. But the reality of COVID-19 in our region has presented barriers to volunteerism for this special group of community helpers who are at greater risk of contracting the virus.
We asked Marshia Allen, Adolescent PHP Behavioral Health Program Therapist at Seay Behavioral Hospital at Texas Health Plano, to provide insights about the importance of volunteering and its effects on mental and physical health, as well as opportunities to give back safely in the current pandemic climate.
A Sense of Purpose and Satisfaction
To start, we asked why so many seniors volunteer and what motivates them to give their time and talent to worthy organizations and causes. According to Allen, altruism is a key motivator in seniors’ decision to volunteer. Those who volunteer believe they’re contributing to the greater good of their community.
“The role of a volunteer doesn’t include monetary compensation, so their choice to volunteer acts as a mirror reflecting individual interests, personal goals, or life perspective,” Allen explains. “That choice ultimately creates a natural sense of accomplishment, purpose and satisfaction that boosts self-confidence, pride, and a renewed sense of identity in their retirement years.”
Physical and Mental Benefits
While charities are positively impacted by those who roll up their sleeves for a good cause, those who volunteer — especially older adults — realize many health benefits that promote their physical and mental well-being. Perhaps a revelation for some, volunteering is mutually beneficial to both seniors and the organizations they serve. A win-win situation for all!
Allen says the positive effects of volunteering for seniors are many, “Volunteer work actually decreases the risk of depression because it provides an opportunity to establish a support system with others who have shared interests or values. Further, volunteer work helps reduce stress. The more rewarding our interactions and experiences are with others, the more willing we are to give of our time and talents. The results in an improved, calm mood and less feelings of anxiety.”
Last, volunteer work helps produce “The Happiness Effect” where the brain releases feel-good neurotransmitters called dopamine, resulting in a “helper’s high” experience. In other words, the more an individual perceives they are making a difference in their community, the happier they tend to feel.
Ways to Volunteer in the Age of COVID-19
With North Texans being urged to practice safe distancing and congregating in groups, many seniors are legitimately concerned about the health risks of in-person volunteer activities. But there’s good news for those who still want to volunteer: virtual volunteering without leaving the comforts and safety of home is an ideal way to give back during the age of COVID-19.
Need help getting started on your virtual volunteering journey? AARP has created Create the Good, an excellent resource for seniors to explore thousands of at-home volunteer opportunities. Visit the link https://createthegood.aarp.org/ and search by keywords, such as hunger or education, and your zip code, to see what virtual volunteering opportunities are offered in your neighborhood.
Similarly, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas offers a number of virtual volunteer opportunities, including being a pen pal to a friend in an assisted living venue, online reading, and tutoring. The Communities Foundation of Texas also lists a number of opportunities to volunteer from home, from writing letters to seniors to brighten their day or ordering playing cards, games and puzzles. For animal lovers, there’s even a link to foster a dog or cat waiting for its forever home.
If you’re interested in volunteering to help a child, Vogel Alcove lets you record a video of yourself reading a book to younger folks experiencing homelessness, and Mi Escuelita Preschools across North Texas is also looking for adults to read and record a favorite childhood story. If interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also be a mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program or make calls once a week to check on Meals on Wheels clients through the VNA Meals on Wheels Mobile delivery app. Click here to learn more.
Looking for additional resources? Our friends at Sixty and Me have compiled a helpful guide specifically geared towards aligning older adults with volunteering opportunities in their community.
Igniting and Renewing a Sense of Purpose in the New Year
In addition to volunteering, Allen says there are other practices older North Texans might consider to ignite or renew a sense of purpose in the coming year. For inspiration, she offers these ideas, which can be pursued safely from home:
- Go back to school. Learn about a particular topic of interest or pursue a hobby.
- Stay in touch with family and learn about the word around them, via Zoom, FaceTime or similar apps.
- Embrace positive aging through spirituality, which can provide structure, meaning and understanding, as well as support through life changes.
Whatever path you choose to pursue, whether through volunteerism or discovering a new passion, we wish you a happy and safe 2021.