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Not everyone who volunteers can claim that his contribution has changed – or even
saved – lives; but Heshie Zinman can.
ago, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, Zinman and many of his friends
joined together to provide care and services to their friends and others who
were sick and dying as a result of the virus. Since then, he has helped found
numerous volunteer-driven initiatives dedicated to supporting the health of the
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.
One of three service programs for older adults sponsored by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, the Senior Companion program pairs adults 55-plus with homebound, isolated elders to provide socialization and help with tasks.
While the program offers a vital service for recipients, it’s a win for the companions too, participants say, because of the friendships they develop and the satisfaction that comes in serving others.
Seventy-four-year-old Rudolf (Rudy) Sawyer spent many years of his life working in the private business sector and then as an educator.
Now that he's retired, Sawyer has a chance to exercise a personal passion for gardening, as a volunteer with the Raymond and Miriam Klein JCC’s “Grow for a Friend” program, which raises fruits and vegetables to help provide food for the JCC’s "Cook for a Friend" Program.
Through Cook for a Friend, volunteers work in individual cooking groups preparing, packaging, and then having the nutritious, frozen meals delivered weekly to support low-income, homebound elderly.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream Speech” Dr. Martin Luther King gave on that day. Below, we feature stories of four local activists from that extraordinary time.
Reverend William B. Moore: Seeking justice for all
Growing up in the “Jim Crow” South, Reverend William B. Moore was motivated early on to fight racial injustice. There were separate restrooms and water fountains and different schools for “colored” folks. And, he recalls, the paved road suddenly ended where the black section of his North Carolina town began.
As a student at Fayette State University during the early 1960s, Moore joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the youth arm of the civil rights movement. He participated in sit-ins, marches and public demonstrations to challenge segregation in public restrooms, restaurants, and public accommodations and to protest police brutality against African-Americans.
For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy a festive meal and celebrate with family. While counting our own blessings, it can also be a time to reach out to others who may not be assured of such a festive holiday. Philadelphia is home to a number of organizations that provide food at the holidays, and all year round. Volunteers are needed to help cook food, pack produce, and make food deliveries, make friendly visits, and donate non-perishable items.
Click on "Read More" to learn about volunteer opportunities. All of the organizations listed here provide their services free of charge.
Pictured in the MANNA kitchen (from left) are volunteers Stephen and Eileen Engber and Marvin and Diane Waxman. (Photo courtesy of MANNA)
On October 2, PA Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson issued a temporary injunction to halt the photo ID requirement for PA voters in November’s election. Voters will be asked to show photo ID at the polls, but will be permitted to vote in the booth without it and will not be required to fill out a provisional ballot.
“You can vote on November 6 without a photo ID. But Voter ID is coming to Pennsylvania. If you don’t have the proper ID now, you should be taking steps to get one to protect your right to vote in the future,” said Karen Buck, Esq., executive director of SeniorLAW Center, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation, education and advocacy to older Pennsylvanians.
For the third time since the Pennsylvania legislature enacted the law requiring voters to show a photo I.D. at the polls this November, the rules have changed.
New rules will enable registered voters to obtain a special voter photo I.D. from a PennDOT Driver's License photo center, without a birth certificate.
However, the new photo I.D.s, will not be available until the last week in August. And voters will still have to go to the PennDOT centers, to obtain the photo I.D.
The Pennsylvania Voter I.D. Coalition, of which Philadelphia Corporation for Aging is a member. is working on a plan to provide transportation to PennDOT centers.
In these challenging economic times, an old idea has gained new appeal: buying services, while bypassing the exchange of cash. Through “Time Banks,” members earn credit for providing services, and then use their credit to obtain services from other members.
There are more than 200 time banks operating in the United States today, with memberships ranging from several dozen to several thousand people.
Noel Miles, 75, is new to volunteering, but feels he should have been doing it all his life. A retired professional watercolor artist and art teacher, Miles joined Philadelphia’s Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) a few months ago and now teaches a weekly drawing and watercolor art class at Fels South Philadelphia Community Center.
It's also been his first introduction to a senior center. “All of my friends are a generation younger than me. I honestly suffer from ageism. I didn’t think I’d be a good fit as a [senior center] member. This arrangement is a great fit,” said Miles. And it has some unexpected rewards.
For at least two of the 54 volunteers who put together care packages for U.S. soldiers overseas last week, there was a personal connection. Joseph Edwards, 82, and Marty Krasner, 77, are both military veterans.
The event was held in honor of Veterans Day, and was hosted by the RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) program administered by Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA). Volunteers gathered at the PCA building on North Broad Street last Thursday morning to write letters, sign cards and put together care packages containing both treats and practical items.
Twenty-five care packages were sent to Operation Shoebox for delivery to the soldiers overseas. Notes and letters to those currently serving in the military were sent to Operation Gratitude .
“Today is a big event,” Edwards said. “It carries me back a long way. I’m here because I appreciate what the men and women in the military do for us now.”
A World War II veteran, Edwards served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, and participated in the D-Day invasion.
Betty Long, founder of Guardian Nurses Healthcare Advocates, remembers the case well.
A 61-year-old man had been diagnosed with a tumor of the nerve connecting the ear to the brain. Surgery was recommended. The man’s union turned to Long’s Philadelphia-based company, which guides patients through the health care system.
Long knew that the man was devastated by the sudden diagnosis. She also knew that radiation can often manage the type of slow-growing tumor he had. “I said, “Would you be open to seeing another neurosurgeon?” recalls Long. The second doctor suggested a wait-and-see approach and a new MRI screening. Six months later, he put the fresh MRI on the light box.
He stood back in surprise.
“That’s interesting,” he said. “It’s gone. The tumor is gone.”
Although results are not always this dramatic, Betty Long’s case underscores the need for second opinions when faced with major health decisions.
If a vacation full of new experiences, travel possibilities, stimulating company, and the rewards of “giving back” piques your interest, then a volunteer vacation may be right for you. There are plenty of possibilities out there, ranging from exotic locales like the Hawaiian Nature Center to places abroad and as close as your own community. Here are some options to think about.
As of this writing, there are still spots available for the Hawaiian Nature Center volunteer vacation in Iao Valley, Maui, which begins on August 21. It’s just one of the many sites through by the American Hiking Society’s volunteer vacation program that engages volunteers to help to build and maintain many of the nation’s most scenic trails. You can select your vacation based on time, degree of difficulty, location, and ruggedness of accommodations (ranging from primitive camp sites to cabins and dormitories), and whether or not you want a family-friendly adventure. Volunteer crews comprise between 6 and 15 volunteers, along with a leader. Vacations usually last a week, but can be longer or shorter if you prefer. Typically, you’ll spend six to seven hours daily on trail work, followed by an afternoon doing camp chores and time to explore the local area.
Are you looking to share your skills and talents? Branch out in new directions? Join in an occasional service project? Whether you are retired or working, have an hour or two a month to offer or desire a more intensive commitment, volunteer opportunities abound.
You can volunteer from the comfort of your home or from inside one of the area’s renowned arts, cultural, or health care institutions; visit with the homebound; or spend your time in the great outdoors. Whatever you choose, it’s easy to connect.
Greater Philadelphia Cares and the city’s Philadelphia Serves websites offer monthly calendar listings of volunteer opportunities.
RSVP, a nationwide volunteer program for persons 55+, partners with a variety of non-profit organizations that serve as volunteer stations throughout Philadelphia for volunteer placements in schools, hospitals, community events and more. You can also get started through the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s Volunteer Match; the Temple University Intergenerational Learning Center; or “Coming of Age," an initiative sponsored by the Intergenerational Learning Center, WHYY, AARP Pennsylvania and the United Way.
Here are just a few of the local possibilities:
Special Events: Join Philabundance the third Tuesday of every month, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. to sort and repackage food for local pantries. Events take place at the Philabundance Food Bank in South Philadelphia. The next event will be held on Tuesday, June 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For information, click here; call (215) 339-0900, ext. or email email@example.com.
Donald Coppersmith first thought about joining the Peace Corps 50 years ago, inspired as a youth by the idealism and foreign travel inherent in this newly-created organization. However, with student loans to pay after graduation, he began a teaching career in the Philadelphia School District — one that lasted through to his retirement in 2007. So the dream was deferred - but it was never forgotten.
“I decided to join the Peace Corps at the other end of life,” says Coppersmith, 65, who recently finished a two-year stint teaching English as foreign language to Chinese university students.
Photo: Peace Corps volunteer Donald Coopersmith, center, with Tibetan monks
Jim Ruddick’s passion for biking was sparked three years ago when he observed the many bicyclists who seemed to “bloom” along Kelly Drive with the burst of flowers and foliage that appeared by the road that spring. Ruddick, who had recently moved to Center City with his wife, Carol, was commuting to his job in King of Prussia when he noticed all the bike riders travelling along some his same route.
“There’s got to be a better way to get to work,” he said to himself of his own grueling commute. He then decided, “I’ve got to get a bike.”
Since retiring from her job as a health and physical education teacher at Olney High School, Joanne Becker has found a new way to exercise her interest in health. Through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), she volunteers at Red Cross blood drives all over Northeast Philadelphia.
“I know there is a need for people to donate blood, with so many accidents and surgeries taking place,” she explains. She says she also enjoys the social aspect of volunteering and “the chance to meet different people.”
A new initiative aimed at harnessing the leadership abilities of retirees to support the work of nonprofits is being launched in the Philadelphia area.
The Encore Volunteer Managers program will train and place adults, age 50+, to manage a corps of volunteers of all ages. Encore Volunteer Managers will earn a $7,000 stipend over a year’s time for working 15 to 20 hours per week of work.
Each manager will be placed with a nonprofit that serves basic needs; works with refugee and immigrant populations; or provides older adult services. The work of the Encore Volunteer Manager will enhance the organization’s ability to use the power of volunteers to enhance and strengthen its services.
The application deadline is April 30, 2010. Applications can be obtained by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project is a joint initiative of The Intergenerational Center at Temple University, along with its Coming of Age partners, United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, WHYY and AARP PA, and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).
‘Tis the season — for gardening.
Throughout the city, an estimated 500 community gardens are in bloom as more than 3,500 Philadelphia Green volunteers nurture flowers, fruits vegetables and herbs on what were formerly vacant, often trash-strewn parcels of urban land.
In her 15 years volunteering for the ActionAIDS buddy program, Barbara Gerstadt has “buddied” with a man in his late 30s and an eight-year-old child. “It takes a while to build a relationship. You have to make a commitment,” she says. “The most important thing is to find something in common. You can always find something in common.”
photo by Paola Nogueras
“How long will it be before we realize -- others won’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care?” Those are the first words callers hear on Josephine Blow’s answering machine, and they exemplify the spirit she brings to her community.
Among her many activities, she helps spearhead clean-up activities, promote neighborhood safety, reach out to the blocks’ senior residents, and engage local youngsters and teens in helpful activities that also foster the kids’ self-esteem. As she likes to say, “I keep an eye on things.”
A chance visit to a dog track on a Florida vacation twenty years ago changed David Wolf's life - and those of more than 7,000 greyhounds.
It all began in March 1989, with a casual question during dinner at the track. "I asked what happens with the dogs when they're finished racing?" he recalled. He learned that these dogs, bred for racing, are viewed as "over the hill" by the time they are four years old, though their lifespan is 12 to 15 years; and once they were no longer earning, they were no longer useful to their owners.
"I found out that there was this huge void - most of them were just being killed." He turned his anger at the cruelty to seeing "what I could do to make things better." and less than a year later, founded the National Greyhound Adoption Program (NGAP).
It may seem counter-intuitive, but community connections can be key to helping older adults maintain their independence.
Research shows that as people age, most prefer to remain in their homes, in their neighborhoods. And a little help from family, friends and neighbors can often be enough to make that possible. It can be as simple as offering a ride, raking a lawn, picking up groceries at the store, or just stopping in for a cup of tea.
Gift wrapping, cooking, delivering food baskets - sound like holiday fun?
Volunteers are needed for all these tasks, to brighten the holidays for homebound, frail and isolated seniors. And by giving your time to help others, you'll be tapping into what researcher Allan Luks has dubbed the "Helper's High."
In the book "The Healing Power of Doing Good" Luks and co-author Peggy Payne report on a nationwide study that demonstrated volunteering can reduce stress, increase energy and produce a feeling of euphoria.
This story comes with a moral message, so if you hate that sort of thing you can stop reading now.
The message: be tolerant, accepting, even sympathetic to those people who have not been blessed with certain natural gifts others may enjoy. I'm referring to the gift of a generous, considerate, self-sacrificing nature. I call these the "yellow sticky" people - cheery and helpful to a fault. But not all of us are so "gifted."
Got free time? Have a pet who likes people? That can be just the combination for becoming a Pals for Life volunteer: someone who brings a dog, cat, rabbit or other lovable animal on friendly visits to people in nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and other facilities where visiting pets and their owners are welcome.
“We find that people who don’t come out of their rooms will come out when pets visit. Many times people who don’t connect with other people do connect with animals, says Paula Kielich, president and founder of Pals for Life.
A first grader breaks into a delighted smile as the mystery of the printed word becomes clear. A homebound woman welcomes a visitor who's delivering a hot meal. Schoolchildren listen and ask questions as a guide explains a museum exhibit.
These moments are all made possible by volunteers giving their time and knowledge for the benefit of others. The opportunities -- and the needs -- appear to cover every area of existence.
For many, the Philadelphia Flower Show isn’t an annual fling, but a year-round passion. All year long, Peggy Bowditch tends plants under lights in her basement, on sunny windowsills and in the garden room (outdoors in summer). She has had some plants for 10 years or more.