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May 25, 2013

From the Office: Unleash the power of age by volunteering

The Daily Star

---- — This year marks the 50th anniversary of May as Older Americans Month. “Unleash the Power of Age” has been selected as the theme emphasizing the important role of older adults. 

“The Power of Age” refers to all the skills, knowledge, resources and energy older people have to share. Older New Yorkers volunteer more hours than any other age group, making a $1.3 billion economic impact. Volunteers are an important piece of many community organizations’ plans to help others.

Most who volunteer recognize that volunteering makes them feel better and research has shown that there is a direct link between volunteering and mental and physical health benefits for older adults. So, what are the benefits of volunteering?

Volunteering connects you to others. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people. It can strengthen your ties to the community and broaden your support network by connecting you with people with common interests, as well as creating a closer connection to neighborhood resources.

Volunteering is good for your mind and your body. People who volunteer report greater life satisfaction and increases in self-esteem. Doing good for others and the community can give you a sense of pride, identity and accomplishment. This can be particularly valuable for those entering retirement or if you are looking for some more meaningful activities in your life. The connections made through volunteer activities also reduce social isolation, lessening your risk for depression.

People who volunteer at least 100 hours a year also have better physical health. Individuals with chronic pain experience a decline in their pain intensity and people who volunteer live longer than those who don’t.

Volunteering can help with career goals. Volunteer activities can help you gain experience in a new field or hone your skills. It can provide opportunities to make new connections or try a new field before you make a big change. It can offer a means to get back into the job market for those who decide early retirement is not for them.

Volunteering can bring you fun and fulfillment. I recently talked with one volunteer about her activities and how valuable she was to the organization and her response was “but it’s fun.”

How do you find the right volunteer opportunity? suggests that you first ask yourself if there is something specific you would like to do. Would you like to experience new things and meet people who have different interests or would you like to spend more time with things you already have knowledge about and, with people who have similar interests?

Next you need to think about whether you want to work with people or in solitude. How much time are you willing to commit? Is it year-round or seasonal? How much responsibility are you willing to take? Otsego and surrounding counties have many opportunities to volunteer; check out a few and see what you think will best suit you.

Once you’ve identified an organization you’d like to volunteer for, make sure you have the information you need so that both you and the organization get the most out of your efforts. Ask questions about time commitment, training, who you will be working with and what the oversight will be. Most important is that you enjoy it, whether it be for the fun or fulfillment you gain from your accomplishments.

Every spring, the Office for the Aging solicits nominations for special recognition of people 60 and older who are making contributions to their communities. This recognition is important because it underscores the importance and value of volunteering to both the community and the volunteer.

This year we received many impressive nominations for individuals making significant contributions. They range from volunteering with the Red Cross at the national and local level, working with community organizations, schools, libraries and churches, leading an effort to help others with food to helping friends and neighbors with errands and transportation. Many individuals are involved in more than one activity.

Those who were selected for special recognition include:

Bruce Downie of Oneonta, for his work with Habitat for Humanity and Elm Park United Methodist Church;

Garrick Hoadley of Gilbertsville, for his work with the American Red Cross, the Dispute Resolution Center, Gilbertsville Christ Church and Gilbertsville-Mount Upton Elementary School;

Lyman Johnson of Cherry Valley, for his assistance to community members and the Cherry Valley United Methodist Church by helping with snow removal, transportation, delivering meals from church dinners to those unable to attend, sharing the bounty of his garden, serving as a Commissioner for Cherry Valley Fire Company and acting as an emergency contact for those with Life Line; and

Mildred Parish of Oneonta for her efforts with A.O. Fox Auxiliary, Oneonta Clothing Guild, Family Services Association, Philanthropic Education Organization and the First United Methodist Church of Oneonta.

These individuals, others nominated and all those who volunteer for Office for the Aging and other community activities can attest to the value they gain through a sense of accomplishment and the gratitude of those they assist. The value they contribute to individuals, organizations and the community is without question.

Frances Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging. ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at