Engaging older people in voluntary work
Volunteering is not just for the young who are looking to gain some work experience and add to their CV – it can also be something of a lifeline for older generations. Getting older doesn’t mean people need to face loneliness and a lack of engagement with society; instead they can find that voluntary roles help them to socialise, act as role models and have a positive impact on their local communities.
According to charity Volunteering Matters, over 10,000 older people volunteer with them and make a big difference to the work that they do. They have seen senior citizens engage with others as school reading champions, mentors for people starting their own businesses and handypersons who help others with odd jobs that they can’t do on their own. This has resulted in a huge number of case studies that prove the positive work that projects organised by Volunteering Matters can do. Many people who have enjoyed the guidance of older helpers have shared their stories through these case studies and explained the impact it has had on their lives. But what about the older people themselves? What can volunteering do for them?
Better health and wellbeing
Regardless of whether the voluntary role is a physically active one, volunteering provides older people with boosted health and wellbeing. Roles that utilise the outdoors and require older generations to move around has obvious health benefits, but even relatively stationary roles can support good health. Senior citizens are aware of the fact that loneliness and isolation can contribute to decreased health and wellbeing and many want the opportunity to get out and engage with others. Working with younger people can also be an excellent choice, as these kinds of roles allow volunteers to pass down valuable knowledge to citizens who will be at the forefront of society in the future.
Feeling as though you are making a positive difference boosts self-esteem and confidence, which supports good mental health. Engaging with others through something as simple as conversation can help older people to use their memories and exercise their brains – an essential skill to utilise as we age to ensure we stay in good health.
Better citizens that contribute to society
Everyone has a role to play in supporting their communities and society as a whole – this includes senior people. Some people can feel a little lost when they retire and as though they don’t have an active role to play in society anymore. Volunteering can allow them to get involved again and to contribute to their local communities. Many younger generations look to older ones for guidance and the advice they receive can stay with them for a lifetime.
Virtually any voluntary work will have a positive impact on society, whether that be working with people in need, supporting conservation and the environment, or contributing to a strong and informed economy. Expose older people to a variety of voluntary roles, discuss the societal benefits of each and allow them to decide on the right direction for them.
How to engage older people in voluntary roles
As is the case with people of any age, the best way to get people involved in volunteering is to appeal to their interests. It may do well to consider the life history of the older person – what did they do as a job? What have they been passionate about in their spare time? Try to find passions that are specific to that person and apply it to volunteering. For example, a person that enjoys knitting might be well suited to a voluntary roles that involves making clothes for people in war-torn countries. Someone that worked in an editorial role may make the perfect mentor to children who are learning to read and write. Those whose relatives have been affected by illnesses may be keen to work in roles that raise funds for medical advancements in those specific areas of healthcare.
Though this is not true of everyone, some older people may feel apprehensive about undertaking voluntary work. They may feel that they don’t have enough experience or may not be able to contribute much to the cause. Showing them their individual skills and qualities are exactly what you are looking for in a specific role can be a great confidence boost. It can also be helpful to start small and prove the big difference that they can make – for those reluctant, make sure that you develop their role gradually. It could be that they work for a short time every week and slowly build up to more involvement. Allowing for regular contact that reaffirms the value of their involvement is essential. If they are making jumpers for refugees, show them pictures of the refugees wearing the jumpers. If willing, have people in need write personal letters to the volunteers to tell them how much they appreciate their help.
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- Picture this! Wellbeing and older learners (blog) - EPALE UK Ambassador Cath Harcula discusses her own experiences with adult learning and considers the five steps to wellbeing
- European Citizenship - a resource for lessons and discussions (resource) - EPALE UK Ambassador Christophe Wells has created a useful resource that can be used in lessons to provide deeper discussions on the topic of European citizenship