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Program offers way for seniors to aid others

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(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Josie O'Hara, 73, calls a Heritage Woods McHenry resident to remind them of a recent "sit and stretch" program. O'Hara has volunteered through RSVP since May 2011 and helps drive people to doctors appointments and answers phones for Senior Services.

McHENRY – Twice a week, Josie O’Hara goes to Heritage Woods in McHenry and directs fellow seniors to stretch their arms over their heads. They flex their ankles and wrists as part of the Sit and Stretch activity.

The group of five to 10 people will pretend to play piano by moving their fingers over an imaginary set of keys.

“It’s really a lot of fun to get them to do different things ... keeping their brains going and keeping them active,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara, however, isn’t paid. She is a volunteer through the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program run through Senior Services Associates.

“I am a people person,” O’Hara said. “I just like to volunteer. I’m going to do what I can, when I can, because someday I won’t be able.”

O’Hara is one of 700 volunteers through the RSVP program that contributed 97,500 hours in McHenry and Kane counties last year.

Among the roles volunteers perform are working as tax aides, serving as clerical assistants at local nonprofits, teaching computer skills to senior citizens and children and distributing food to veterans. They work at food pantries, in resale shops, at nursing homes and at animal shelters.

“Not only are you helping people, but it also makes you feel good to do something for someone else, to help them out,” O’Hara said. “Why not be as useful as you can?”

O’Hara also answers phones at Senior Service Associates, drives people to doctors’ appointments and spends time with other seniors.

O’Hara, 73, of McHenry, worked as a medical secretary in hospitals and at a doctor’s office before retiring.

Debbie Danitz, the director of volunteer services for Senior Services, places seniors in volunteer opportunities. She has them fill out an application and finds out what skills and interests they have.

Senior volunteers are reliable, Danitz said.

“They have a lot of experience and knowledge,” Danitz said. “You could count on them.”

Seniors who volunteer also help themselves by living active, healthy lifestyles. There are mental and physical health benefits associated with volunteering, including lower mortality rates, increased strength and energy, decreased rates of depression and fewer physical limitations, according to Senior Services.

“To me, it makes you feel good about doing something for somebody else,” Danitz said.

“Volunteers impact the community by assisting seniors to remain independent and in their own homes by providing rides to necessary medical appointments, performing small home repairs, delivering meals to frail elderly, and alleviating isolation by providing friendly visits,” Danitz said in an email to the Northwest Herald.

Last year, there were about 337,000 senior corps volunteers contributing 96.2 million hours in communities around the nation. They helped more than 700,000 seniors who received assistance to remain independent in their homes. More than 300,000 young people received tutoring and mentoring that improved their academic performance, self-esteem and social behavior, according to Senior Services.

“At a time of increased need and declining resources, volunteers age 55 and over are stepping in to fill the gaps,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “Senior ... volunteers are delivering enormous social and economic benefits to our communities and demonstrating that service is good for the nation and those who serve.”

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