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Celebrate Volunteer Month By Sharing Your Time and Talent

With vaccinations making headway against COVID-19, we can finally look forward to a return to normalcy. Along with spending time with family and friends, it’s also a good time to contemplate a return to volunteerism. 

Putting the focus on ways Americans can help their neighbors is National Volunteer Week, April 18-24, which has been observed every year since 1974. In fact, this entire month is devoted to highlighting ways volunteers of all ages perform valuable services for their communities.

Many Americans are itching to get back to their volunteer activities post-COVID. Many such programs were sidelined during the pandemic year, although some were able to continue on a virtual basis. Raising money, mentoring young people and fundraising were some of the charitable activities that volunteers were able to carry out via ZOOM meetings and social media platforms in the past year.

According to report by Fidelity Charitable, 65% of volunteers  participated remotely during the pandemic compared to 19% previously. Meanwhile, 45% of active volunteers cut back the time they devoted to charitable pursuits while 21% quit volunteer work entirely in 2020. Food pantries and nursing homes were among the organizations most impacted by the dearth of volunteers during COVID-19.

For many volunteers, the joy of charitable service is found in personal connection with others who benefit from their help. In 2017, an estimated 77.3 million people offered their services on a voluntary basis. Members of the Silent Generation—those born between 1928 and 1945—accounted for 6.67 million of them. At slightly under 25% of U.S. volunteers, this cohort has held steady for years. Interestingly, volunteering was once strongly skewed toward women, but men have been closing the gap over the past 20 years. The percentage of female volunteers now edges out male volunteers 27.8 to 21.8%.

What kind of volunteer work is best suited to seniors? Some like to work with kids while others prefer helping other senior citizens. If you’re thinking about returning to the volunteer ranks post-COVID, or offering your service for the first time, it’s important to consider your goals in order to ensure a more fulfilling experience. 

Other tips to consider before making a volunteer commitment are:

  • Consider your talents and passions when searching for a volunteer program.
  • Understand all that is involved in your chosen volunteer activity, including training and/or the minimum number of hours you must fulfill.
  • Don’t over-commit to a volunteer task and don’t be afraid to say “no” if necessary.
  • Consider asking a friend or spouse to volunteer with you. It can make your volunteer work feel less intimidating. 
  • Look for a local organization that needs your help.

The volunteer opportunities you encounter are likely to fall into one of these categories:

  • Preparing, collecting or distributing food.
  • Fundraising
  • Providing labor, whether to build Habitat for Humanity homes to or to keep green areas looking beautiful.
  • Tutoring or mentoring children and youth.
  • Collecting, sorting and distributing clothing.
  • Helping military families or vets.
  • Participating in a volunteer vacation either in the U.S. or abroad.

If you’re ready to join the ranks of senior volunteers, there are several programs that are geared to this cohort. One of the largest is the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), under the auspices of AmeriCorps, the federal agency for volunteering and service. RSVP’s mission is to engage volunteers 55 or older in high-quality volunteer services aimed at meeting critical community needs. It also makes grants to qualifying organizations and agencies. The program will get a boost this year, with AmeriCorps set to spend $23.6 million to fund senior volunteer programs. 

Local programs that need senior volunteers are easy to find via local websites and databases. Here are some that feature Naperville volunteer opportunities:

The Points of Light Foundation founded by former President George Bush—who introduced the concept of “1,000 points of light” in his inaugural address—includes local volunteer positions on its website.

The DuPage Senior Citizens Council offers several opportunities for volunteers including delivering meal boxes to senior citizens. 

The City of Naperville has a volunteerism page where local charitable organizations post their volunteer needs. 

Giving DuPage provides a volunteer portal that includes on-site volunteer jobs, in-kind donations and remote volunteer tasks. 

Here at Monarch Landing residents are always finding ways to help—even during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when resident Pati Saulig and two others created dozens of masks for friends and fellow residents. Our community also lends annual support to the Naperville CROP Walk, which in 2020 was held as a virtual fundraiser rather than an in-person walk. Resident Duane Mevis, one of the founders of the walk—which stands for Communities Responding to Overcoming Poverty—raised $9,300 with the help of Monarch Landing neighbors. We have also supported and made donations to local charities including Feed My Starving Children.

If this isn’t inspiration enough, considering that volunteers don’t just give of their time, money and talent—they also receive multiple benefits in return. These include improvements in health and well-being, including relief from depression and loneliness. In the words of actress Audrey Hepburn, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands—one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”