Volunteerism: It’s a Win-Win!
By Daniel Krueger
Like most people, I eagerly anticipated the joys of retirement: Winter vacations in warm climates, sleeping in late when I choose, expanding my social network, dedicating more time to causes and organizations in which I believe.
The goal of expanding my social network was easy to accomplish. Living in greater Minnesota 90 miles from the Twin Cities, I’d put off until retirement my intent to become involved in Prime Timers Minneapolis/St. Paul, an organization that provides mature gay and bisexual men and those who enjoy their company an opportunity to socially enrich their lives. A glance at any Prime Timers monthly calendar reveals an array of social activities including a wide range of dining out opportunities, a book club, interesting excursions within and outside the metro area, presentations on current topics of interest, pot lucks, and much more–so much that one would find it difficult to do everything in any given month.
But an unexpected and very welcome volunteer opportunity was another benefit in becoming a member of Prime Timers, for the organization had recently partnered with Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, an international, nondenominational, volunteer-based nonprofit organization committed to relieving isolation and loneliness while promoting well-being and independence among older adults in the Twin Cities Metro Area.
Upon becoming involved with LBFE, I was amazed to learn the enormity of the task facing this incredible organization. Currently, one in three–or 200,000–Twin Cities seniors lives alone. The number will rise 75% by 2030! According to AARP, 92% of seniors prefer to stay in their own homes but 32% of those ages 70 and older are lonely. Such isolation often leads to depression and self-neglect. It has the same impact on mortality as smoking and alcoholism, and poses a greater risk than obesity. Unfortunately, studies have shown that reported incidences of loneliness and isolation are even greater in the GLBT senior community. Obviously, there is a great need for an organization such as Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly.
LBFE offers a variety of volunteer opportunities which aim to promote interaction between Twin City elders and the wider community. I’d like to share some thoughts about the three programs in which I am currently involved.
Friendship and Flowers is a program in which one Saturday each month volunteers deliver flowers and cookies or a small gift to seniors. The smiles and positive comments from the two elders I visit reveal how very important these monthly visits are. “I’m so happy you come each month.” “You are the only visitor I have.” “Thank God for Friends of the Elderly.” In December the wrapped Christmas gift from LBFE was the only Christmas gift my elderly friends received.
Another program in which I am involved is Pen Friends. Each month letters and postcards are sent to help alleviate loneliness and provide connectedness. Although only one of the elders with whom I correspond is able to write back, I am told the elder who is unable to write proudly displays the postcards received in her room in her assisted living residence.
The third program in which I have participated is the holiday celebration provided each Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. In an elegant white-tablecloth and centerpiece setting elders from across the metro area are served a holiday feast, with various live music groups providing entertainment during the dinner. At events such as these our elders are afforded the respect and dignity which all people deserve and need. It’s an immensely gratifying experience to be involved in such an event.
Other programs offered by LBFE include Phone Companion Volunteers, Animal-assisted Companion Volunteers involving interaction with the volunteer’s dog, Bingo, Birthday Parties, Book Clubs, Knitting and Card-Playing groups. The Visiting Volunteers Program matches volunteers with elders based upon mutual interests, providing monthly visits and outings. Two programs that seek to forge bonds across generations are First Sunday for Elders in which seniors are matched with families for a home-centered experience and Service Learning which gives elementary through college-age students a greater awareness of aging issues.
A relatively new initiative is the NEST Program-Neighbors Embracing Seniors Together. The goal of this visionary program is to create aging-in-place communities where there is connectedness among older adults, providers and neighbors of all ages.
For anyone considering joining the LBFE team of volunteers, I would suggest starting small, becoming involved in one or two programs that interest you and fit your schedule. Based upon personal experience, I can say chances are good you’ll soon be wanting to expand your involvement with LBFE. The many personal rewards I receive from getting to know the wonderful elders served by Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly make this experience one of the most gratifying of my life.
Prime Timers Minneapolis/St. Paul Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly
1730 New Brighton Blvd. 1845 East Lake Street
PMB 162 Minneapolis, MN 55407
Minneapolis, MN 55413-1661 612.746.0726
612-371-9537 Danielle Fehring at [email protected]