Bad Times Motivate Many to Give -- Volunteers Provide the Fuel That Drives Senior Programs

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The “holiday spirit,” often drives people to volunteer this time of year; popular programs like “Be a Santa to a Senior®” from the Home Instead Senior Care® network tap into the sentiments of the season to help needy and isolated seniors. But seniors and volunteers alike benefit from volunteerism year-round, and it’s an absolute necessity during down economic times, according to the CEO of one of the nation’s largest non-profit organizations – the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

Be a Santa to a Senior volunteers distribute gifts and good cheer to lonely seniors.

During the kind of recession and economic downturn that we've experienced, volunteerism is not just a nice thing to do, it is a necessity

The holidays often bring out the best in people, and that includes the desire to volunteer for programs that help seniors. According to Sandy Markwood, the CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, volunteers become champions for seniors by enhancing the lives of older adults during tough economic times and bringing fulfillment to their own.

“During the kind of recession and economic downturn that we’ve experienced, volunteerism is not just a nice thing to do, it is a necessity,” Markwood said. And bad times, it seems, motivate many to give.

“Right now communities across the nation are facing high unemployment and related escalating needs for assistance at the same time that cities and county governments and non-profit organizations are facing shrinking financial resources. Older adults and their caregivers have been hard hit by the struggling economy with many finding it difficult to make ends meet,” she noted.

“Area Agencies on Aging are seeing older adults who have never needed services come through their doors seeking help. The good news is that despite the troubled economy, a recent report by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that volunteerism in the United States increased in 2009, which shows that when times get tough, Americans rise to the call for service.

Paul Hogan, co-founder and chairman of the Home Instead Senior Care network, agreed, saying that support is strong for the company’s volunteer Be a Santa to a Senior program, which provides gifts to isolated and needy seniors during the holidays. Participating local Home Instead Senior Care offices throughout North America rely on volunteers to help wrap and deliver gifts.

“Giving to seniors is also up,” Hogan said. “The consensus of a survey sampling of the Home Instead Senior Care network’s local offices that participate in the Be a Santa to a Senior program found that gifts and donations to seniors have increased across the board. Our franchise owner network confirmed that a lot of very open and giving hearts are concerned about the senior population.”

One reason that volunteerism may be thriving since the recession is the fulfillment that it brings. “Volunteering is actually not only a good thing to do for society; it is a good thing to do for yourself,” Markwood said. “According to recent studies, volunteering leads to greater life satisfaction and lower rates of depression. Research has actually shown that people who volunteer live longer,” she added.

“Volunteerism provides individuals with a way to become engaged in their community and to develop deep connections with their neighbors. People who volunteer have been shown to have greater appreciation for their community and to be more active in efforts to improve their community, even in areas outside the realms of their volunteer activity. They actually become community champions -- donating their time and talent as well as becoming donors, fundraisers and advocates for community causes,” she said.

Both Hogan and Markwood said the holidays do, in fact, seem to bring out the spirit of giving in so many. “But we need to ensure that the commitment that we have to serve others isn't limited to one day or one special time of the year,” Markwood said.

“The needs of seniors in our community are there year-round and just by setting aside an hour a week or a few hours a month you can make such a difference in an older person’s life, and in your own.”                                            

Many city and county governments have volunteer offices that post all volunteer opportunities in the area, and local Area Agency on Aging] offices also provide volunteer information.

For more information about the Be a Santa to a Senior program, including where to find participating retailers, consumers can visit beasantatoasenior.com or call the Home Instead Senior Care office in their area. Many Home Instead offices also welcome volunteers to help wrap and deliver the donated gifts to lonely seniors.

About Home Instead Senior Care
Founded in 1994 in Omaha, the Home Instead Senior Care network is the world's largest provider of non-medical in-home care services for seniors, with more than 875 independently owned and operated franchises in 14 countries and 15 markets, spanning four continents.

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Erin Albers