Volunteers with the Befriender Program, part of Catholic Charities’ Refugee and Immigration Services. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities)
Volunteering helps retired adults age better. Those who regularly volunteer report lower rates of mortality, depression, and increased happiness and self-esteem, according to a 2017 report by AARP. The older a person is, the greater the potential benefits of volunteering, making the simple act of giving back an essential part of staying healthy.
Beyond feeling good and achieving a sense of purpose, volunteer seniors can make friends, learn new skills and keep their minds sharper. Unlike a traditional job, volunteering offers the flexibility to fit the work with the senior’s schedule and the freedom to explore various opportunities to find the right fit.
According to Nate Braun, director of human resources for Catholic Charities, there is a tremendous need for volunteers.
“Especially since COVID, we have had new challenges that were brought to light that individuals and families are struggling with,” Braun said. “Our resources are being stretched everywhere and that has a direct impact on serving clients in our communities. Volunteers with Catholic Charities have been a tremendous way for compassionate individuals to partner with staff and provide a meaningful impact for individuals and families we serve.”
Catholic Charities helps the poor of all faiths, ages and cultures to improve their ability to be self-sufficient. They help clients raise their families in more stable and healthy homes, escape violence, cope with emotional and behavioral challenges and overcome barriers to a better life.
The organization serves all 10 counties in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and volunteers are greatly needed to assist with programs in person and remotely.
One of the greatest needs for volunteers is with the Adult Day Center. As the new volunteer coordinator, Marie Honel said the sky is the limit for ways to help.
“Volunteers can come in once or twice a month to visit, play an instrument, play songs, games, create arts and crafts, paint, and really anything to connect your skills and passion with those who come here,” Honel said. “We also have a great need with our Refugee Immigration Service Program. Refugees need help with English and preparing for citizenship. They also need help integrating into their new communities.”
Other programs include working with older adults and adults with disabilities to live with greater dignity in their own homes. The volunteer programs help strengthen the senior’s living situations and enable them to remain active and involved in their community.
“We need volunteers to socialize with our clients, clean, help with laundry (and) maybe pick up groceries or medications at the pharmacy,” Honel said. “We also have a Child Welfare Program and need people to help our adoption support group for children and parents. Overall, I think the opportunities for anyone to help are great and depend a lot on the person’s availability.”
Honel suggests contacting her to discuss areas of interest where the volunteer feels most comfortable helping. Free training is offered for their programs.
“I am always happy to talk to volunteers about opportunities we have, and we encourage that because we don’t want someone to be in an area they aren’t comfortable with,” Honel said.
Braun agreed, adding that potential volunteers should check the Catholic Charities website or call to see where volunteers are needed.
“There is also information on our internship programs and if folks are interested in one of those, please connect with us,” Braun said. “We have needs in all of our counties, but of course, the Milwaukee area has the greatest need.”
For those unable to travel to volunteer, helping with the refugee and immigration program may be the perfect fit as volunteers help virtually.
“If people want to work with children or adults tutoring in English, we offer an information session to help them understand our program. We also have an online learning module where the volunteer can meet with a staff member to discuss all our opportunities. We emphasize ongoing staff support as our volunteers are really important,” Honel said.
In addition to helping the clients, volunteers build relationships and develop close relationships with those they help. According to Honel, it is the perfect transition for someone who worked in a structured job for years and is interested in doing something different.
“They can follow their passions and increase their sense of purpose, share their expertise and wisdom with others,” she said. “Volunteers will have a positive impact on others by bringing them joy and seeing them happy and connected. Research shows that volunteering can reduce stress levels, feelings of isolation and the risk of depression, especially for older adults.”
If you want to help