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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Seniors Can Volunteer to Beat Loneliness

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Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.

Mother Teresa

What is loneliness?  According to Wikipedia, "loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship."  It "typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connectedness or community with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people...Loneliness has also been described as social pain - a psychological mechanism meant to alert an individual of isolation and motivate him/her to seek social connections."

Aging presents new sets of challenges for all of us which can include being more at risk for loneliness. There are obvious explanations like the loss of a spouse.  There are social explanations like the fact that older people tend to value connectedness more than younger people. And then there are more clandestine explanations like ageism.  I will be offering perspective on each of these explanations soon, but for now let's focus on what I believe to be one of the most viable solutions to combat loneliness - volunteerism.  

Volunteering your time to help others is like a hot bowl of homemade chicken soup on a blustery winter day; it warms, replenishes, satisfies, comforts and soothes. Other benefits include: 

  • The opportunity to increase your personal connectedness in your own community.  Participating in your community gives rise to a sense of belonging which works against loneliness on all levels. 
  • The opportunity to make friends with and socialize with the kind of caring, open, positive people who volunteer.  This is a chance to make new friends and grow relationships.  
  • The opportunity to reap the benefits of altruism.  We have all heard that it is better to give than receive and research confirms the old adage.  Studies have shown that altruism is good for your emotional well-being and can measurably enhance your peace of mind.  See Stress Management.
  • The opportunity to share your own talents and expertise which naturally increases feelings of self-worth.  As a mature adult with a lifetime of experience, you have much to offer. Volunteering gives you a captive audience which is often missing after children have grown and gone and once retirement has been realized.  
  • The opportunity to tap in on a greater sense of gratitude.  It is easier to count your blessings when you are exposed to the less fortunate.  I know that sounds brash but remember we are talking about how to combat feelings of loneliness through volunteerism.  Besides, I am convinced that exposure benefits everyone.  Too many people walk through life oblivious to the pain and suffering of others in part because they insulate themselves from the less fortunate.  
  • The opportunity to stay busy which gives you less time to be lonely and dwell on negative feelings and emotions. 
At this point, hopefully you are wondering where to sign up!  You can contact any community agency that you believe in including homeless shelters, boys and girls clubs, clinics, military organizations, civic and/or religious groups, hospitals or your local community to explore volunteer opportunities.  Don't forget about your local schools.  They are often looking for volunteers to read to students and more.  You might also consider your local assisted living, senior center or hospice organization in an effort to participate in the notion of seniors helping seniors.  

Here is a list of national and local organizations in no particular order that we believe in here at Senior Agenda: 

  1. Military Appreciation Follow this link for details and direction.
  2. American Red Cross Call the American Red Cross of Greater Columbus at 614-253-2740  ext 2355 or Follow this link for national details and direction.
  3. RSVP This is the nation's largest volunteer organization for seniors 55 + and specializes in matching seniors with volunteer opportunities that tap individual talents and passions.  Follow this link to learn more.
  4. The Salvation Army Follow this link for details and direction.
  5. Catholic Social Services Friendly Visiting Program Volunteer to visit a senior experiencing loneliness and social isolation in Franklin County.  Visit this link to learn more.    
  6. Hospice Organizations  One of our favorites is Gentiva at 1-888-GENTIVA Follow this link to learn more.  
  7. LifeCare Alliance  Volunteer opportunities are endless with this incredible local organization including delivering Meals on Wheels to local homebound seniors. Visit their website for details.
  8. Mid Ohio Food Bank Help fight hunger by volunteering today.  Follow this link to learn more.
  9. Volunteers of America/ Greater Ohio Volunteer to help the less fortunate today.  Follow this link to learn more.
  10. COLUMBUS COALITION for the HOMELESS Volunteer to fight homelessness in our city.  Follow this link to learn more.
  11. Good Neighbor Picnic 2014 Volunteer to participate in organization for 2014 effort to provide a day of family fun for the homeless in our city.  Visit their website to learn more.
  12. Columbus Recreation & Parks Department Volunteer to help with park clean up and more. Follow this link to find a park near you.
  13. Volunteer Guardian Program Volunteer to be a guardian to a senior.  Free training and supervision offered through COAAA.  Follow this link to learn more.
  14. Ohio Department of Aging Volunteer to help seniors through COAAA - Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging at 1-800-589-7277 Follow this link to learn more.
  15. Hands On Central Ohio Foster Grandparent Program Volunteer to mentor a child in need.  Call 614-221-6766 or Follow this link to learn more.
  16. Ohio Historical Society Volunteer to help preserve our state's history.  Follow this link to learn more.
  17. Employment for Seniors  Volunteer to help other seniors find employment.  Call 614-863-1219 or Follow this link to learn more.
  18. Columbus Metropolitan Libraries Volunteer opportunities range from clerical duties to participation in the HomeworkHelpCenters where you can tutor children. Call 614-849-1055 or Follow this link to learn more.
  19. PAWS Ohio: Public Animal Welfare Society Volunteer to love a pet through adoption, fostering or other agency duties.  Follow this link to learn more.
  20.   For a list of over 400 local individual volunteer opportunities. Follow this link now!
Remember to listen to Senior Agenda for local opportunities through the year. As I often say on the radio program, you don't have to go it alone!!! 

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