AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteers
Connecting volunteers with young and old who need seniors’ skills and wisdom
For more than 50 years, Senior Corps has served communities nationwide. The program has benefited both the volunteers, age 55 and over, and those who are recipients of the volunteers’ services. It has connected seniors who want to serve with those people who can benefit from their wisdom, experience, and willingness. In the fall of 2020, the National Service program had a name change. Now, AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers assist in their communities providing a diversity of services, including tutoring and mentoring students, assisting and caring for the elderly, and supporting relief teams when disasters strike.
AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers programs
Although specific services vary widely, tailored to meet local community needs, AmeriCorps Senior offers three umbrella programs: Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions, and RSVP.
Foster Grandparents serve as role models, mentors, and friends to children and youth with exceptional needs.
Senior Companions provide assistance and friendship to older adults who have difficulty with the tasks of daily living, such as shopping, preparing meals, reading, or accompanying a client to medical appointments. Volunteers help these adults remain independent in their homes instead of having to move to institutional care. Senior Companions also offset the responsibilities that typically fall on family members or professional caregivers.
RVSP (Retired Seniors Volunteer Program) is one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for people 55 and over. Through a variety of activities, volunteers can use the skills and talents they’ve learned over the years or develop new ones.
Rather than working to reinvent the wheel, AmeriCorps Seniors typically connects volunteers with local agencies that are already meeting community needs through volunteer opportunities.
In Central Virginia, for example, volunteers can work with Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging, to serve through the RSVP and Foster Grandparents programs.
Maryland volunteer opportunities include working with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice as Foster Grandparents; with the Washington County Commission on Aging Incorporated for RSVP; and with Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee as Senior Companions.
A sprinkling of specific examples
In New York City, volunteers fill a variety of needs. For example, they may serve as veteran mentors; work with individuals with developmental disabilities; act as foster grandparents in disadvantaged schools, helping the children emotionally and improving scholastic skills; and teach adults studying for their GED exams.
“The most rewarding part … is to connect with new people,” said volunteer Myrna Allen.
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“You’re helping to pass something on to [someone] that they can navigate to help make their lives more enriched,” said volunteer Robert Ishmael.
Or as David McKay put it, “I like being a senior companion more than I like ice cream.”
AmeriCorps Senior volunteers also respond to disasters. On April 17, 2013, a fertilizer facility exploded in West, Texas, killing 15 people, injuring 160 people, and damaging or destroying more than 150 buildings. RSVP volunteers went to work at the community center to help with tasks such as preparing and delivering meals, supporting local children, and repairing homes. Volunteer Lana Donaghe recalls that immediately after the disaster, “We had no electricity, so we looked for candles and anything we could use, and we started delivering meals two days after the blast.”
Read this and other baby-boomer focused stories in the Winter 2021 Digital Boomer.
To assist children who had been traumatized by the explosion and its aftermath, tutors and other volunteers stepped in. “We decided that not only did we want to do a program for the summer where they’ll be able to stay up with their studies,” said volunteer Kate Rabold, “we’re also working on getting them ahead.”
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Ava Reinfeld and Steve Delman traveled twice a week through New Jersey’s Essex and Hudson counties to deliver meals to homebound and isolated elderly residents, including Holocaust survivors. The pair delivered an average of 20 meals per week – hundreds in the first eight months of the pandemic. They also delivered care packages with toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and other necessities. The program, which was set up specifically in response to the pandemic, is run through Jewish Family Service’s RSVP [Retired Seniors Volunteer Program] Center.
When Reinfeld takes the food to the door, she typically wears a mask that has plastic rather than fabric over her mouth. That way, the meal recipients can see her smile. “I think it’s very important that they see most of my face because of the human and emotional touch there,” Reinfeld said. “I feel it’s very important that we have a connection with the people we deliver to.”
Reinfeld notes the feeling of accomplishment she has after the deliveries. “It allows me to complete the mission my parents kind of gave me in life about giving back,” she said. “It makes me feel better.”
“Same thing,” echoed Delman. “I just get that warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s going to be years before we can hug somebody. This is as close as we can get.”
The Senior Corps Pledge
Those who become volunteers with AmeriCorps Seniors programs take a pledge to serve American communities:
- I will get things done for America – to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
- When faced with a pressing challenge, I will bring Americans of all generations together to strengthen our communities.
- When faced with children at risk, I will help them stay in school and on track for a brighter future.
- And when faced with older adults in need, I will provide support and compassion so they may age with grace and dignity.
- Working for the greatest good, I will use my lifetime of experiences to improve my country, my community, and myself through service.
- I am a Senior Corps [RSVP, Foster Grandparent, Senior Companion] volunteer, and I will get things done.