Volunteers are more satisfied with their lives because they’ve chosen to volunteer in ways that are meaningful to them, according to national program studies. Studies show volunteering helps seniors maintain good brain function, and productive activity may slow down the aging process for seniors. Senior volunteers not only enjoy health benefits and a sense of accomplishment, but volunteering also helps combat depression brought on by isolation. The Oregon Humane Society, Metropolitan Family Services, and the Architectural Heritage Center are three local organizations where seniors volunteer and stay involved in their communities.
Oregon Humane Society
Three years ago, senior volunteers Marilyn Happold-Latham and her husband, Dale, brought the K9 Nose Work program to shelter dogs at OHS to help the dogs build confidence while providing mental stimulation and fun, and alleviating boredom and anxiety. “Senior dogs are great noseworkers, who love searching for and finding smelly treats,” said Marilyn, who enjoys helping dogs by improving their chances for adoption.
For the past five years, OHS has found homes for more than 11,000 animals annually, which is three to four times the national average. The Oregon Humane Society has a 98 percent save rate for all animals brought to the shelter.
“Baby boomers are my most reliable and dependable volunteers; I can count on them to do their jobs,” said Kristin Bigler, Volunteer Resources Manager at OHS.
Bigler initially volunteered at OHS, and in 2002, was selected for their volunteer manager position. According to Bigler, senior volunteers are best at mentoring and training others; also at initiating new projects and following through to ensure success. At OHS, volunteers have autonomy to find their niche and set their hours; schedules are flexible and successful volunteers are self-directed. Most volunteer assignments require physical activity, like dog-walking, or showing cats to clients, but less taxing assignments like data entry or working in their retail store, the Best Friends Corner, are available.
“I solicited advice from senior volunteers, many of whom were retired from professional positions and possessed organizational skills,” said Bigler. Lou Chapman, a retired Portland General Electric customer care manager, served as a sounding board and still volunteers as a dog-walker and assists with monthly orientation for new volunteers.
Founded by 14 volunteers in 1868, today OHS has approximately 1600 active adult volunteers; twenty-five percent of them are over age 55. At OHS, the retention rate for all volunteers is 62 percent which Bigler credits to investing in orientation, training and mentoring volunteers before they start.
Carolyn Brock volunteers in the OHS cattery, showing cats to prospective adopters. Although she’s legally blind, Brock uses devices on her home computer to study cat profiles so she’s able to share information about specific cats with potential adopters. For more information: Visit oregonhumane.org or call (503) 285-7722.
Metropolitan Family Services
With 2,200 volunteers serving in multiple programs, MFS helps more than 30,000 people at home, in school, and in the Portland area each year. Programs include:
• Project Linkage, providing 28,000 rides annually to seniors and people with disabilities;
• AARP Experience Corps with its adult volunteers over age 50 who mentor and tutor school children;
• Encore Consultant in which volunteers use their professional skills for high impact, short-term projects; and
• A variety of programs offering after-school academic and enrichment activities for more than 9,800 children and youth annually
Project Linkage matches clients who request ride services with drivers like Don Morin who volunteers his time two days a week. The top priority for the ride service is driving clients to medical appointments, but Morin has also driven seniors and clients with disabilities to grocery shop and visit friends and family members. He recently recalled providing rides to a blind man so he could visit his wife in a convalescent home. “The wife was so appreciative; there was no way she’d be able to visit with her husband in person,” said Morin.
He’s also driven seniors to their volunteer assignments at the hospital, senior centers, and Loaves and Fishes. Formerly a highway engineer who oversaw a project on Highway 101 north of Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast, Morin responded to an ad for drivers and started volunteering for Project Linkage after retiring in 2009. “Volunteering gives me purpose, gets me out of the house and keeps me active,” said Morin, age 86.
Deborah Shimkus has served as volunteer recruitment coordinator for older adult programs at MFS for 19 years and said inter-generational programs are mutually beneficial, matching former schoolteachers and empty-nesters with students who need help.
“The worst day in the office is when I overhear our dispatchers inform clients that we can’t provide rides. Our turndown rate is roughly 33 percent. If people only knew how easy it was to volunteer, we know they’d help,” said Shimkus. Volunteer drivers comprise about 12 percent or 400 rides per month. Most volunteer drivers prefer to drive their own vehicles, however Project Linkage provides fully equipped minivans and buses for staff drivers and volunteers’ use. For more information: Call (503) 232-0007.
Architectural Heritage Center
“AHC volunteers, staff and board members have a deep sense of commitment to preserve Portland history, homes, and neighborhoods,” said Ita Lindquist, AHC volunteer and rentals manager. Located at 701 S.E. Grand Ave., the AHC opened in 2005 and currently has about 350 volunteers, according to Lindquist. Because “life is limber and flexible,” the volunteers’ schedules are, too.
“AHC volunteers include recent college graduates, but 45 percent of volunteers are over age 55, and comprise the highest retention rate,” said Lindquist.
“People often call or visit the AHC to learn about their home’s history. Architectural plans are filed with city archives, but AHC offers programs to guide residents interested in researching their homes,” said volunteer Nancy Carr, who received AHC’s Volunteer Service Award in 2014. In addition to responding to visitor questions at the front desk, Carr volunteers for home tours and the annual AHC auction. She recently served on the team to select homes for the Old House Revival Tour scheduled for April 11.
Lindquist started out volunteering at AHC and five years ago was selected as their Volunteer and Rentals Manager. She provides individual orientation to volunteers to better match them with tasks to optimize their success. “My favorite volunteer is one who’ll do anything and is unafraid to learn and try new things,” said Lindquist. For more information: See visitahc.org or call (503) 231-7264.