United Way and the Caring Power of Older Adults

By Stacey Knight

Recognizing the importance of senior service to our country

Marian, an 81-year-old resident of Madison, WI, joined the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP) and volunteered for United Way of Dane County’s Blast Off to Kindergarten initiative. The county-wide initiative helps children and their parents get the information they need to register for kindergarten and become comfortable in what can be a new and intimidating process. Providing this knowledge and comfort to children and parents not only helped the young families and schools in the area, but, as Marian shared, gave her life purpose.

Marian, and thousands like her, would not be able to serve without the leadership and support of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). United Way congratulates CNCS for its success and stands beside it in this commitment, proudly connecting more than 2.5 million people to volunteer opportunities each year.

The opportunity to contribute to one’s family, peers, or community is important at every age, but particularly in older individuals where it has been shown to increase their health and longevity. Multiple studies from across the globe have shown, in individuals 55 to 75 years of age, volunteering can reduce the risk of death by 25 percent, which is why United Way Worldwide’s Center on Aging is committed to senior service as a critical component in its work to ensure older adults live healthy and active lives in their home or community.

Harnessing ‘Caring Power’

Too often seniors are seen as a population in need rather than a generation with greater wealth, education, and health than preceding generations, who often want to make a better life for themselves and others. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 years old every day, this generation is redefining senior volunteerism and retirement, but the quality of their lives and the impact they have on all of us will depend on how well we leverage this caring power.

United Ways are connecting the skills and passion of seniors to community needs, increasing the health and vitality of all involved.  With the help of seniors, United Way of Bay County RSVP’s Community Garden in Bay City, MI, raises roughly 2,500 pounds of fruits and vegetables every year, which are distributed by their partner, Hidden Harvest, to shelters, food pantries, and hunger relief organizations throughout the county.

Volunteering is also an opportunity for seniors to help their peers. Greater Twin Cities United Way works with partners to train older individuals to educate their peers on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provide application assistance to those who meet the guidelines.  To date, senior volunteers have conducted more than 1,000 screenings and helped almost 500 complete an application, connecting a record number of seniors to the health and financial benefits of SNAP.

We look forward to continuing our partnership with CNCS and our many friends to realize the caring power of such a great generation and witness the amazing impact they will have in our communities and, ultimately, on our world.

Stacey Knight is the Director of the Center on Aging for United Way Worldwide

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