Seniors have a golden opportunity to volunteer

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Senior News By Marianne Mills

Having an active retirement is key to the good life. Volunteering is an effective way to stay active while making a difference in our community.

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The National Senior Service Corps can find the volunteer activity that best matches the skills and wants of the unique retiree. The National Senior Service Corps offers three programs: The Retired Senior Volunteer Program is for anyone over age 55. An RSVP volunteer can work in any setting he or she so chooses - in an office, at the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Pioneer's Home, the museum, the library, the senior center or at someone's home. The volunteer can help someone shop, give them rides around town, take them to lunch, play cards with them and just talk.

The Foster Grandparent Program matches volunteers with children in areas such as the Head Start programs, elementary schools, the Boys and Girls Club and even rocking babies at St. Vincent De Paul Day Care. These volunteers can help kids of any age, from infancy through the teen years. Many senior volunteers find fulfillment through the intergenerational interaction and support.

The Senior Companion Program offers many volunteer opportunities at locations like Wildflower Court, the Juneau Pioneers' Home and in individuals' homes. Unlike the RSVP program, the Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent Programs are for volunteers age 60 and older who are income eligible. These volunteers receive a stipend of $2.65 per hour up to 20 hours per week.

"Whatever the type of volunteer work, it has to work for both the volunteer and the person or work station benefiting from the volunteer," explains Mary Fitterer, NSSC program coordinator for Juneau. "Our goal is to develop a partnership between the volunteer and work station so that the volunteer experience meets the expectation of both the volunteer and work place."

Belonging to the National Senior Service Corps has several benefits. The NSSC knows what volunteer opportunities are available in the community. Each volunteer is uniquely matched to the position and job site that fits best: what is the volunteer's preference for a type of work, certain hours or days, the age group to work with or a location? Each volunteer has a job description to make clear what is expected of the volunteer and the work site. If a volunteer situation doesn't work, Mary will serve as liaison with the work station to solve the problem or find a work station that fits better.

On the first Friday of each month, the NSSC offers an in-service training with lunch and speakers from 9:30 until noon at Northern Light United Church. The volunteers have the chance to discuss their volunteer jobs and build relationships with each other.

The telephone reassurance program is a rapidly growing new volunteer opportunity. This program involves a volunteer calling an elder on a regular basis to offer a safety check or a friendly voice. It offers a connection with others, breaks the isolation for seniors living alone, helps them feel a part of the community and to live safely in their own homes. Mary at NSSC wants to develop this service. She invites people to call her if they know of any elder who would like a phone call every day. To volunteer or request telephone reassurance for a senior citizen, call Mary at 790-3613.

• Marianne Mills is the program director of Southeast Senior Services, which offers home and community-based services for older Alaskans throughout the region.

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