The joys of volunteering

Alicia Colombo

By Mary Anna Rodabaugh


April is National Volunteer Month, a time to appreciate the contributions of dedicated volunteers and share information about volunteer opportunities for older adults in the region. From leading workshops in the city’s senior community centers to conducting wellness checks on people who live alone, there are many ways to get involved and experience the joys of volunteering.

“I enjoy the feeling of still being a productive member of society during my retirement,” says Donna Whitsett, 74, from East Mount Airy. “I enjoy being a part of the camaraderie amongst the program staff here at Center in the Park.”

Whitsett has been volunteering since 2011 and currently serves as a volunteer program office administrative assistant for Center in the Park, a senior community center in Germantown. She is among many volunteers who support programs for older adults in Philadelphia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for senior center programming over the past two years. Paid senior center staff have felt the brunt of the pandemic when colleagues have to stay home to recover or care for loved ones. Therefore, many of the city’s senior centers have relied on their older adult members to lead workshops, cover the front desk, answer phones and make wellness calls to check on other center members.

Members of the On Lok Senior Service Center in Chinatown have really stepped up this past year to volunteer to serve meals for the daily lunch program. In essence, many of Philadelphia’s senior centers have sustained programming because of the robust volunteerism of members.

“Volunteering is important because it gives meaning to our older adults who can utilize their vast life experience,” says Esther Lee, assistant director of community engagement at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), which funds 28 senior community centers and satellite meal sites in Philadelphia.

If you would like to find a volunteer opportunity within your neighborhood senior center, you can call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040 or go to pcaCares.org/senior-centers to find a center near you.

Older adults help peers
“PCA, as an organization, benefits from the wisdom, knowledge and support of older adults,” says Lynda Pickett, PCA’s community engagement assistant director of IHSP & volunteer services. “These active, older adult volunteers, in turn, allow PCA to expand its reach to help more older adults.”

A voice in long-term care
PCA’s Ombudsman Program helps to give people living in long-term care settings a voice in their own care. In this structured opportunity, volunteers travel to nursing facilities and assisted living communities within Philadelphia to interact with residents and listen to their concerns or complaints. This state program requires training, a criminal background check and some data entry for documentation purposes.

Currently, training for ombudsmen is conducted virtually through two community partners: Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE) and Center in the Park. As Philadelphia continues to re-open and relax pandemic restrictions, the Ombudsman Program is eager to add additional volunteers.

For more information, including how to volunteer, go to pcaCares.org/ombudsman or call 215-765-9040.

Companionship
PCA’s Senior Companion Program is a person-to-person service program for older adults that is federally funded through AmeriCorps. Volunteer Senior Companions, who must be 55 or older, are paired with homebound, isolated older adults who need some assistance to remain in their homes. Companions provide socialization and assist with daily tasks, including light meal prep, running errands and accompaniment to medical appointments. Volunteers must meet income requirements and receive a small stipend to offset the cost of volunteering.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, in-home visitation may not be possible or practical. Therefore, the Senior Companion Program has implemented a telephone assurance component where volunteers call older adults daily to check in, share food resources, provide updates regarding the pandemic and socialize to combat isolation.

Currently, there are more than 55 Senior Companion volunteers but the program is actively seeking more. Volunteers attend monthly in-service meetings, which are held virtually. Personal protective equipment is provided for use during home visits. To learn more, call 215-765-9040 or visit pcaCares.org/volunteer.

Help with insurance
The Pennsylvania Medicare Education and Decision Insight Program (PA MEDI), formerly known as APPRISE, is a federally funded health insurance counseling program for Pennsylvanians who are eligible for Medicare. Services are provided by CARIE and Einstein Medical Center. After completing a comprehensive training through the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and receiving a certification, PA MEDI volunteers help older adults to understand and navigate their health insurance options. Volunteers provide information and assistance with Medicare eligibility and enrollment, Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap), and prescription drug coverage. Assistance is provided through telephone counseling. This volunteer opportunity is open to all, but may be of special interest to retired nurses, physicians and other health care industry workers.

To learn more, visit pcaCares.org/pamedi or call 215-765-9040.

Providing health info
If health and wellness is your passion, PCA’s Health Promotion Programs may be the perfect volunteer opportunity for you. PCA administers an evidence-based workshop series for self-management of chronic diseases, chronic pain and diabetes. Each series include six weekly workshops taught by a trained volunteer instructor.

In addition to these workshops, PCA’s Health Promotion Unit also offers “A Matter of Balance,” an evidence-based falls prevention program taught by volunteer facilitators, called coaches. A Matter of Balance runs for eight sessions and addresses the fear of falling by providing strategies to improve balance, mobility and activity.

Since the pandemic began, these workshops have been offered virtually, either by video conferencing or telephone. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer instructor or coach, call 215-765-9000, ext. 5123 or go to pcaCares.org/health.

With so many different programs to choose from, there is a volunteer opportunity for just about everyone. Call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040 to learn about what volunteer opportunity might be best for you.


Mary Anna Rodabaugh is a writer, editor and writing coach.

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