By Anthony Cirillo
New studies are emerging showing the physical and emotional benefits of volunteering. For example, the Office of Research and Policy Development, Corporation for National and Community Service, issued a report showing that:
"those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer."
A study in the Journal of Gerontology entitled, Effects of Volunteering on the Well-Being of Older Adults, showed that:
"Older adults who volunteer and who engage in more hours of volunteering report higher levels of well-being. This positive effect was not moderated by social integration, race, or gender."
There is a certain makeup of people who volunteer. It could be inherent in their DNA; result from the impact of following family members' examples; or a result of education. There are probably people who have that DNA but are unable to participate in volunteer activities perhaps because of mobility or health issues. What if technology were unleashed to help?
Volunteer Through Video
People who once volunteered when they could drive may suddenly find themselves in a lurch when for one reason or another they find they can no longer drive. Sure friends and family can give them a lift. Often they do not want to be a "burden" and typically the older generation is leery of taxis. So when I hear my 85-year-old mother-in-law wanting us to install the Uber app on her phone, it gives me hope. These ride services have a lot going for them in terms of assuring you receive a safe and a lower cost ride. The availability of driver ratings and partnerships with AARP also help give peace of mind to the person using the service and to their children, often the primary caregivers. This opens up a new world of possibilities when it comes to getting to volunteer opportunities and events.
Some people may simply be home bound and cannot physically be able to leave the house. Yet their years of experience in the workforce can be utilized to mentor younger people or participate in volunteer committees using Skype, Zoom, VSee and other technologies. For example, Big Brothers Big Sisters has a program in Connecticut called "The Foster Grandparent Mentoring Program."
"It provides opportunities for low-income persons 55 and over to provide person-to-person services to at-risk children....Foster Grandparents are placed in classrooms in Elementary and Middle schools, Head Start Programs, or Day Care Centers. They assist children to develop reading readiness in pre-schools; provide emotional support and assist with teaching self-care."
While video chat may not have the intimacy of face-to-face, nonetheless, it offers the opportunity for mentoring to a generation of kids that is already used to Facetiming with Grandma.
Online Volunteer Communities
I am fond of a service called Lotsa Helping Hands. It allows caregivers to set up communities of care for a loved where people volunteer to assist with certain duties. When my sister, then caregiver to mom, was diagnosed with cancer, it was the perfect way to assure mom's needs were taken care of while my wife, myself and my brother-in-law took care of my sister. Often these are closed communities of care where people are invited to participate. However there are options to make these open communities where anyone can lend a hand.
There is group I write about in my book called The Raging Grannies. They are a protest group of older adults who use parody songs and silly customs to call attention to topical things of the day. Yes some have even been arrested. The beauty of this group is that they utilize residents in nursing homes to assist with costume design, writing lyrics, and more. The residents often cannot physically join the protest. What if the protest was brought to them via Periscope or live streaming on You Tube or Facebook? They can then feel a sense of participation and at the same time be using social media to promote others to join in at the event.
These possibilities just scratch the surface. Now use your own imagination to see how existing technologies can enhance volunteering. Along the way you may be inventing new technology that fills in unmet needs you discover.
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