Senior… But Not in Body or Heart
Area seniors and retirees find fulfillment in jobs that need doing.
Maybe you thought life at senior and retirement communities was about sitting around, watching TV, discussing bingo, planning doctors’ appointments and getting to an early dinner. Boy, would you be wrong!
Seniors and retirees are increasingly involved in the greater community. Volunteers are engaged in all kinds of activities: teaching, gardening, preparing meals … And their volunteer efforts help not only the community but also themselves.
Supporting Education and Schools
Many seniors devote their volunteer hours to schools. At Kendal-Crosslands, for example, residents teach English as a Second Language (ESL), as part of Kendal’s Adult Literacy Program, involving about 50 mentors.
The program’s mission is to improve literacy on the job, in the family and in society. At the Friends Home in Kennett, there are also residents who have worked as tutors of ESL. Working with the local Rotary Club, residents at Friends Home Kennett also buy and pack backpacks for schools.
For over ten years, about 20 residents of Dunwoody Village meet monthly with 2nd graders from Highland Park Elementary School. Students are bussed to Dunwoody and each is partnered with a resident. Together, they work on projects assigned by the teacher.
Barclay Friends’ seniors share lifetime experiences with school children. Together, they write letters, raise houseplants and share seeds. Recently, a new program started with the Chesterbrook Academy 4th grade class.
And at The Highlands at Wyomissing, their seniors are working as tutors in a program called “United Way Ready, Set, Read!,” involving reading to 2nd and 3rd graders. Residents also read to preschool classes.
Animals and Arboretums
But volunteering isn’t limited to the classroom. Dee Crow of White Horse Village volunteers as a docent at the Philadelphia Zoo, explaining artifacts and biofacts of animals. She’s been guiding Zoo visitors for 23 years and “loves it.” She had to take a class—which she described as “zoology 101”—and she’s been volunteering ever since. Between the people and the animals, she “never knows what’s going to happen.”
Also from White Horse Village, Alan and Barbara Mennig have logged over 2500 hours at Tyler Arboretum’s butterfly house. Alan tags butterflies for MonarchWatch and was thrilled to have five of the tags returned from as far away as Mexico. The couple also volunteered with Tyler at special events, as members of the horticultural crew, assisting with bookkeeping, and in arts and crafts projects.
Once a week, Dunwoody Village resident Connie Carino and her wire-haired dachshund, Jock, visit the community’s Care Center. Jock is a therapy dog, and their visits are much anticipated. “It’s amazing to see a resident’s mood change when they see Jock,” says Amanda Posoff, Dunwoody’s Recreation Coordinator. “He brings a lot of comfort and happiness to them when he visits.”
Some seniors are devoting their time to caring for others. For example, for over 20 years Sally Ross has been volunteering at Thorncroft Equestrian Center, helping children and veterans with disabilities. She grooms, tacks and leads the horses, sometimes acting as a side aid. It’s very “calming,” and she sees “miracles all the time.”
Growing and Serving Food
Many seniors work in food preparation. Barclay Friends, for instance, is about growing things. Its residents care for the gardens, help pick beans and clean vegetables, providing several hundred pounds of food this season to the Chester County Food Bank. They also planted vegetables and herbs to give to Barclay’s employees, and potted a hundred plants for distribution at Barclay’s Secret Garden Tour and Plant Sale in September.
Kendal-Crosslands’ residents conduct two food drives every year, also benefitting the Food Bank. In addition to non-perishable goods, residents contribute hundreds of pounds of fresh produce gleaned from their on-campus vegetable gardens.
“The Big Cheese” is the largest United Way-driven meal packaging event in the country, preparing about 500,000 mac and cheese meals for school children, lunch programs and food pantries throughout Berks County. Residents at the Highlands of Wyomissing helped with much of the work—over 80,000 meals in 2019.
For their part, Dunwoody’s residents made casseroles for St. John’s Hospice, a men’s shelter in Center City, Philadelphia, and they prepare over 80 casseroles every month.
Meals on Wheels of Chester County has over 500 volunteers, the majority of whom are retirees. Volunteers pick up hot meals around the County—they’re prepared by residents at area senior communities—and deliver them mostly to elderly clients. Last year, volunteers delivered over 80,000 meals to home-bound residents.
Through its Creative Stitchers program, The Highlands at Wyomissing creates hats, mittens and sweaters for local charities. Volunteer stitchers have also made “knitted knockers” for breast cancer survivors.
At Surrey Services, much of the volunteer effort goes to transporting its members. Its Respite Care program volunteers also serve as caregivers, filling days with activities. Caryn Fallon, Surrey’s Senior Director of Mission Services, says the program is “not only great for the caregivers to get a break but also for their loved ones, who might not get out much, to experience socialization.”
For the Holidays.
The holidays bring out our caring sides. Kendal-Crosslands, for example, leads a Toy Drive, this year benefitting children at Tick Tock Early Learning Center in Kennett Square. Over a hundred toys are donated each year, and its staff Santa helps deliver them. There’s also a Warm Coat drive benefitting local families. Coats, gloves, hats and other winter clothes are donated to help families keep warm this winter.
At Friends Home in Kennett, the residents “adopt” a family every Christmas. This year, they’ll be buying and wrapping gifts for a family with three children.
And, at The Highlands at Wyomissing, Santa, working with the American Cancer Society, will write letters and place calls to children. Parents completed a form with the child’s Christmas List so they’ll get a personalized letter from Santa.
A Job to Do
Our area seniors’ motives toward volunteering and charity are often private and personal.
One example: Joan Feldman and Josie Launi have found that their efforts are most needed at The Hickman itself. Joan works in the gift shop, distributes mail and “feeds the fish every morning.” Josie also delivers the mail, the newspapers and gives Communion to the Catholics. “It’s fun,” she says. As they warmed to their community, they saw jobs that needed to be done and did them. Josie had been a volunteer at St. Agnes parish all her life. Joan had worked in a school.
Similarly, a resident of Shipley Manor, a Five Star Senior Living community in Delaware—who prefers to remain anonymous—says, “Listening and helping people was always a passion of mine. As a widower, I understand loneliness. … The key is listening. Usually when I visit people, they are just lying in bed. I find that a little conversation can brighten their day and that brightens up my day. There’s always something to talk about; whether it’s music, history, fellow veterans or even current events.”
In truth, the volunteer efforts seem to work both ways. It’s not just the greater community that benefits. Volunteers are rewarded too. Their efforts keep them active and engaged. They get to exercise their skills, often to do things they’ve wanted to do and now have time to do.