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Volunteering Provides Life-Changing Opportunities for All Involved

Most not-for-profit organizations rely on the enthusiasm, generosity, dedication and compassion of volunteers to provide much needed services to as many individuals as possible.

“Simply put, organizations such as ours could not maintain, let alone expand, the services we provide if not for a committed group of volunteers,” says Ursuline Senior Services Executive Director, Anthony Turo. “Not-for-profits, especially those providing social services, have extremely tight budgets. Our staffs are often small and, while incredibly dedicated to their work, not adequate in number to do all we need to do to accomplish our mission of helping older adults age with dignity. Volunteers enable us to close that gap, if not eliminate it.”

Maximizing the Benefits … for All

One important key to successfully using volunteers, according to Ursuline Director of Volunteer Programs Karen Tobin, is to match the right volunteers with both the task and the recipient of service.

“We offer a variety of volunteer opportunities, each with its own required skill set and, in most cases, background clearances,” she says. “Of course, most important is the careful matching of the volunteer to the individual with whom they will be helping. This is true for just about every not-for-profit serving some segment of society.”

“Our volunteer programs are a continued effort to provide outreach and support to those in need of services that determine and promote elder independence,” says Tobin. “Our volunteers are in the community, actively helping to meet the needs of the elderly effectively and efficiently. Meanwhile, behind the scenes is a small but dedicated staff of professionals working to assure that the needs of both the consumer and the volunteer are met. We vigilantly screen and train our volunteers and then carefully match each with the appropriate consumer to ensure that conditions for a successful and productive relationship are optimized.”

“These volunteers are the extra eyes, ears and voices for those who would otherwise fall through the cracks,” says Tobin. “We could extend these services throughout Allegheny County if we had more volunteers.”

Volunteers Fill Simple, Yet Growing Needs

Volunteers are needed more than ever today to help fill the place of family members who no longer live in the area. For a generation, the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County community has been losing its young and middle-aged cohorts who have left the area in search of the type of good, family-sustaining jobs their elderly parents enjoyed. Now, those same parents are aging-in-place without the support of younger family members to help with even the most basic activities necessary to stay in their long-time homes.

The Cart to Heart Shopping Program, begun as a pilot program in late 2006, provides—through the efforts of community volunteers--a means to regularly receive groceries. Ursuline volunteers deliver essential groceries to homebound seniors once or twice a month. The volunteer shoppers are also expected to have a brief, friendly visit with the senior—not only to provide good company, but to see if any changes in the senior’s situation have occurred or to recognize and recommend additional services, much as a family member or neighbor would do if available.

“For the senior in the program, the benefits are clear,” said the program’s coordinator Becky Stokes. “They receive needed groceries plus a visit from someone whom they can talk to and rely on.”

In much the same way, a program such as the Senior Reassurance Program provides a volunteer caller to a senior living alone for the purpose of a brief daily check on the senior’s well-being.

The Rewards are Shared

“Volunteer programs provide a multitude of benefits for senior citizens in need,” says Turo. “This type of outreach provides an opportunity for individuals who really want to make a difference in the lives of others. This interactive commitment is a two-fold initiative for those who want to serve and those in need of service.”

“Our devoted core of volunteers reap the rewards of giving back to their communities by assisting seniors-in-need, while our consumers benefit from the support that helps them not only remain independent, but also retain a sense that someone does care about them.” And in the process, often meaningful friendships are formed.

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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide