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Published: February 27, 2024

 Older man planting flowers in the dirtAsk your local church, food bank, arts organization or other favorite non-profit the value of their volunteers, and you’re likely to hear a variety of superlative words that express a similar sentiment: Volunteers are essential to its mission.

No surprise that older men and women play a major role in this vital economic engine. Freed from the rigors of earning a living and raising a family, many of them now have the time and ability to offer unpaid help to individuals and organizations in need. Plus, their years of experience at work and at home add up to knowledge and wisdom much appreciated at non-profits.
And volunteers benefit too.

May is Older Americans Month, and this year’s theme is “Powered by Connection,” which recognizes the powerful impact meaningful connections have on our health and well-being.

Blessings and Benefits of Being a Volunteer

At 83, Joan Chittister knows first-hand about the value of volunteering. As a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, she has been a passionate advocate for human rights and women’s issues and operates an outreach program for those in prison. She is a prolific writer, with more than 50 books.

In The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully she writes:

“Generativity – the act of giving ourselves to the needs of the rest of the world – is the single most important function of old. In fact, most of the important dimensions of public life depend on the volunteer services of older people. They do the caretaking of other elderly, they supervise the children of young parents too busy now to do it all themselves. They prepare and deliver the ‘Meals on Wheels’ that enable so many older people to remain in their own homes. They prepare the civic posters and the election ballots. They volunteer in libraries and museums and in hospitals and parks.”

Volunteers are a blessing to others, for sure, but being able to reach out to others is also a blessing of aging, she writes.

Volunteering has several health benefits, including the following:

  1. Leads to lower rates of depression, especially for people 65 and older;
  2. Gives a sense of purpose and teaches valuable skills;
  3. Helps stay mentally and physically active;
  4. May reduce stress levels;
  5. May experience greater increases in life satisfaction and self-esteem;
  6. Helps you meet others and develop new relationships.

Volunteering can also open the door to new intergenerational relationships. No grandchildren or none nearby? No problem, just ask your local community center, school or library about volunteer opportunities with children and teens. They may have a tutoring or mentoring program or need help starting one.
Or become a “baby cuddler,” writes Kim Mueller in Next Avenue.

“Baby cuddlers are hospital volunteers extensively trained in Neonatal Intensive Care Units across the country. Some hospitals call them Rockers or Huggers. Cuddlers provide therapeutic talk and touch — they don’t feed the babies, change their diapers or walk around with them,” says Lynne Thomson, NICU nurse manager at Saint Luke’s. “They simply hold the infants and read, talk or sing to them when the families can’t be at the hospital because of work, school or other childcare commitments.”

A 77-year-old volunteer said his weekly visit to the hospital to volunteer as a patient advocate and cuddler gives him purpose and peace.

Volunteer Hours Add Up

The Independent Sector estimates that the latest national value of each volunteer hour is $31.80. The new estimate represents a 6.2 percent increase over 2021. The value is calculated by the University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute. 

“With the incredible challenges presented over the last few years, volunteers have been relied on more and more by mission-driven organizations to implement solutions, provide services, and help their neighbors and communities,” says Nathan Dietz, Research Director, Do Good Institute and the researcher responsible for calculating the estimates.

In 2019, more than half of Kendal’s residents logged a total of 53,617 hours.  Residents enjoy volunteering in Oberlin and throughout Lorain County. They also volunteer within the Kendal at Oberlin community by reading to preschoolers at the Kendal Early Learning Center, staffing the front desk at night and growing herbs for the kitchen.

Resident Outreach in the Oberlin Community

Tina Graf is facilitating a 9-month series of workshops on Witnessing Whiteness at the Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

“For a few years before I moved to Kendal, I had been seeking a curriculum to shepherd me and (mostly) fellow UUs through challenging reflections and conversations about the unearned benefits we have been privy to owing to the chance whiteness of our skin,” says Tina. “The book Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk, with accompanying website and free 2-3-hour workshop facilitation materials, has filled the bill.”

Rich Hall is the "community" member of Oberlin College's "Institutional Animal Use and Care Committee," which reviews (and approves or rejects) all proposals for the use of animals in research and teaching at the college.  

“I read and critique all the proposals, making sure the animals are treated as well as possible and that the use of the animals is necessary and valuable,” says Rich. “For 50 years, I myself have been a vegetarian for moral reasons, so this work fits in with my prior ethical views.”

Elizabeth Brinkman volunteers with Credo Music, a faith-based organization based in Oberlin that develops young musicians to prepare them for a life of music and service.

“I contribute to Credo by proofreading and envelope stuffing. This is a great program, which helps young musicians work together, learn new interpretations, and improve their individual and group skills,” says Elizabeth. “In addition, all Credo participants participate in public service endeavors -- providing music for those who do not have access to it, e.g. prisons, clean churches, weed public gardens and much, much more.”

Several residents volunteer at the Oberlin Public Library. Vern Wettersten is vice chair and Kay Rider is treasurer of the library’s Friends, which helps raise money for library improvements and young reader programs, and Dorothy Luciano spends 8 to 10 hours a week in the stacks.

“I inventory the books, check their condition and dust the shelves,” says Dorothy. “I like being part of the Oberlin community’s vitality and being part of the larger-than-Kendal world. Also, the atmosphere there is good: light-hearted and very friendly.”

Resident Outreach in the Kendal Community

A group of residents spends a couple of hours a month as bluebird nest box monitors.

“The support of nest box monitors has significantly increased the survival of these native species. Already this winter, several Kendal residents have reported sighting Eastern Bluebirds in trees near their cottages, a testament to the successful monitoring of past years,” Nina Love says.

Kenneth Cheek got involved with a group working on transportation issues for residents.

“I happened to have had experience in this area, so I helped modify how it had worked and we set up what now is known as the Ride Share program. An individual pays a $35 annual fee and is eligible for an unlimited number of free rides to a medical appointment for a year. In four years, we have been able to do all requests, over 100,” he says.

Several residents are active with Supporting Friends, a group that assists residents in the Stephens Care Center by reading, visiting, sharing meals and other activities.

“Sitting with the dying is very meaningful to me. If possible, no one should die alone, and I’m (selfishly) hoping to pay it forward. But it also reveals how caring the staff in Stephens is when residents are at the end of life. Watching them minister to the dying is a blessing,” Diane Follet says.

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Molly Kavanaugh 2020 - 180x180In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.

About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40-minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.


This blog was originally published in May 2019 and was updated in March 2024.