When discussing volunteerism and seniors, the conversation often steers to how we - the young, the vibrant, the under 65 crowd - can assist senior citizens.
There are, however, multiple branches in Colorado and around the nation through which senior citizens can continue to give back, or give back for the first time, to their respective communities.
One such organization is the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). SeniorCorps-RSVP, as it is known, is a national service program like Peace Corps and AmeriCorps with a focus on placing individuals 55 and over in volunteer opportunities.
“The way SeniorCorps-RSVP works is like a volunteer placement agency for volunteers to find great opportunities,” said Andrew Davies, SeniorCorps-RSVP Director in Larimer County in a promotional video. “RSVP is essentially a network of non-profits and hospitals all over Larimer County, all doing great work.”
One of the reasons SeniorCorps-RSVP functions so well is based solely on need.
“I spend most of my time here in Larimer County with the non-profits,” Davies said, “and I often hear the same thing, ‘if we only had more volunteers. If we had more help, we could do this. If we had more help, we could reach those people. If we had more help, we could make a bigger impact.’”
According to Davies, in the last 14 year combined Americans have served 113 billion hours of community service for a total estimated value of $2.3 trillion dollars.
“Volunteering is part of the fabric of our country which holds it together,” he said. “It’s part of our values, it’s part of past and it’s definitely part of our future. Volunteering gives us purpose and meaning and we all just fill better after we’ve served one another.”
Another program that seeks to combine the desire of the country’s senior population to volunteer with the need for volunteers is the Volunteers of America Foster Grandparent Program.
The Foster Grandparent program helps develop intergenerational bonds by bringing together youth and older adults. There are more than 140 Foster Grandparents in Denver, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. The Foster Grandparent program matches low income seniors who are over 55 with students at early learning centers, head start programs, elementary schools and Boys and Girls Clubs.
Jan Mayer was a volunteer in the Foster Grandparent program and became involved in the Reading Partners portion of the program.
“I moved to Colorado to be my granddaughter’s nanny, and I was doing a lot of sitting around, eating popcorn and watching TV,” Mayer said in a release. “A representative from Foster Grandparents came into my building and from there I got involved with Reading Partners. Reading Partners gives me a reason to get out of the house and contribute to something bigger [than myself].”
She added that while imparting some of her knowledge to the students, they, likewise, imparted some of their youth to her.
“For me, the students help keep me young and on my toes,” she said. “My mindset is, if I can help just one child, I will be happy.”
Another Foster Grandparent enrollee, Paula “Roddy” Godown, used her experience in the Marine Corps to help motivate the students in her care.
“It really warms your heart when you know you helped a child understand something and that he can get excited about education,” Godown said in a release. “It’s just so exciting because they get excited.”
She also promoted self-esteem to help students gain confidence in learning. Self-esteem is closely tied to academic performance. According to the Journal of Applied Sciences, low self-esteem can result in a declining motivation to learn and have an adverse effect on learning.
“Every child needs to know that they’re valuable, that they’re worth something to somebody, that people care about them,” Godown said. “We need to build a child’s self-esteem from the time they’re little because when they get into college, you can see where they never had that.”
For seniors interested in volunteering contact the Foster Grandparent Program or the Colorado Branch of Volunteers of America at 303-297-0408. Or online at www.voacolorado.org.
As Mayer states, there is always a need to volunteer.
“Whether you are young or old,” she said, “if those of us who can give back to the community don’t do it, who will?”