Fabulous After 50: Why Volunteers Are So Special

Volunteers give back—and get back—in return.

Joe Miller, 68, and M. “Chris” Stranahan, 70, had been volunteering their entire lives, so to them it only seemed natural that after retirement they not only would continue to volunteer, but also would step up their commitments.

“It’s time to give back. When you’ve been fortunate in life and have a background that’s valuable to an organization, you’re wasting your time if you are not helping people,” says Stranahan, a retired teacher from Newark. 

“Chris and I have the same philosophy,” adds Miller. “We’re not going to rust out; we’re going to wear out.”

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Co-captains of a Disaster Action Team with the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Region, they are on call one week out of three, ready at a moment’s notice at any time of the night or early morning and all weekend long to respond to a house fire where the occupants need Red Cross assistance.

Last year Miller, of Hockessin, devoted 1,045 hours to various Red Cross programs, including working at disaster sites such as hurricanes and floods. In 2011, Stranahan was named New Castle County’s Volunteer of the Year by the Retired & Senior Volunteers Program (RSVP). 

Veronika Moore (left) with her mentor Patricia Johnson at North Dover Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Creative Mentoring

“Senior volunteers have a great deal of talent and experience, and they have time to devote to volunteering. All those aspects combined are so valuable to the organizations they serve,” says Debby Vandiver, RSVP program manager for New Castle and Sussex counties.

Some 93,000 Delawareans of all ages volunteered their time in 2010, according to the January 2013 report “Philanthropy in the First State.” The financial value of their commitment was a whopping $41.6 million. 

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Nationally, people over age 55 make a significant contribution of time to nonprofits, with 18.7 million older adults—more than 25 percent of the over-55 population—volunteering an average of three billion hours annually between 2008 and 2010, according to the report “Volunteering in America 2010.”

“We are seeing a rise among retirees who are willing to give back in a variety of ways,” says Chris Grundner, president and CEO of the Delaware Association for Nonprofit Advancement. “And because of their work and life experience, they are making critical contributions to organizations beyond what volunteers might typically be doing.”

Yes, volunteers still sometimes stuff envelopes, but they also provide critical services to the clients of nonprofit organizations, serve on boards, help fundraise and offer business knowledge, legal expertise and other critical skills, Grundner adds.

Joan Irwin enjoys volunteering at Ronald McDonald House. Photo courtesy of Ronald McDonald House

“Every volunteer is a gift for sharing their energy, enthusiasm and support with the people we serve,” says Holly Titus, director of volunteer and student engagement at Easter Seals.

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At a time when nonprofits are struggling with money woes and sometimes trying to get by with fewer employees, volunteers might be more important than ever. “With a staff of just six, we rely heavily on our volunteers. We could not do what we do without them,” notes Daniel Green, senior director of the American Heart Association in Delaware. 

Volunteering isn’t just good for the nonprofits; it’s also good for the volunteers, according to numerous studies. One study reported that volunteers over age 70 live longer, while another noted that volunteers over age 60 reported lower disability rates and higher levels of well-being relative to non-volunteers.  

“Volunteering just feels good. It’s rewarding, and people appreciate you,” says Miller. 

Adds his Red Cross partner Stranahan, “I know it sounds hokey, but I like people. I like helping people.”


Find the Right Volunteer Position for You

Volunteers are needed for a wide variety of positions at hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, food kitchens, museums, historic homes, theaters, schools and many other organizations throughout Delaware. Listed below is just a small sampling of the many nonprofit organizations in the state currently looking for volunteers to help them fulfill their missions and serve the community. No matter what a person’s talents or interests, there’s an organization out there in need of those services. 

One helpful resource for getting started is the Retired & Senior Volunteers Program in each county, which matches volunteers with organizations. Other resources include VolunteerDelaware.org, part of the state Department of Health and Social Services, and the Get Involved partnership between the United Way of Delaware, The News Journal and Delaware nonprofits. (delawareonline.com/getinvolved)

AARP.org/states/DE, (866) 227-7441
Advocates on issues and offers educational programs about issues that affect Delawareans over age 50.
Self-directed and motivated volunteers are needed to draft letters to the editor and help with social media outreach. Help is also needed with community outreach events and office work.

American Heart Association
Heart.org, 286-5709
Supports research and education about heart disease and stroke.
The Delaware chapter holds seven major fundraising/education events annually. Volunteers are needed for everything from planning to cleanup. Volunteers also perform office work and run information tables at community events.

American Red Cross of the Delmarva Region
redcross.org/de/wilmington, (800) 777-6620, ext. 6240
Provides relief to those affected by disasters and helps communities prepare for and respond to emergencies.
The local Red Cross is most in need of after-hours workers to take calls from emergency workers and triage them for response as well as for people to train as Disaster Action Team members. Volunteers are also needed to work at shelters or to teach community disaster education courses and answer preparedness questions at community events.

Bayhealth Medical Center
Bayhealth.org, Kent General volunteers 744-7153; Milford Memorial volunteers, 430-5621
Operates one full-service hospital in Kent County and one in Sussex as well as various outpatient facilities.
Volunteers are needed for a wide variety of tasks, including escorting patients, helping patients with lunchtime meals, working as information desk greeters, operating the library cart, baking cookies on the nursing unit and bringing trained therapy dogs for pet visitations. 

Biggs Museum of American Art
BiggsMuseum.org, 674-2111, ext. 101
The Biggs Museum displays examples of decorative arts and antiques from the mid-Atlantic and offers educational programs, workshops and lectures.
Volunteers greet and orient visitors to the museum and assist with programs.

Connecting Generations
CreativeMentoring.org, (877) 202-9050, ext. 10
Connects volunteers with Delaware youth needing consistent social, emotional and academic support.
Volunteers devote one hour weekly to in-school mentoring of K-12 students. Board and committee members also needed.

Easter Seals of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore
DE.EasterSeals.com, 221-2037
Provides services to children and adults with disabilities to help them live more independently.
Volunteers are needed to help with outings with adult clients, to entertain, teach crafting or other skills, fundraise or help with office work. Easter Seals is also looking for people with strong video production skills.

The Grand Opera House
TheGrandWilmington.org, 658-7897
Home to several arts groups and host to guest performances, The Grand also engages in educational outreach.
Volunteers in The Grand’s Show Corps take tickets, usher, check coats and bartend. Opportunities also exist for volunteers to provide staff support.

Literacy Volunteers Serving Adults
LitVolunteers.org, 658-5624
Teaches English as a Second Language and basic reading skills to adults in New Castle and Kent counties.
Volunteers are needed to tutor individuals or small groups of adult students or to lead conversation groups. There are also opportunities at the Head Start Family Literacy Program or as resources in computer labs.

Meals on Wheels Delaware 
Delivers hot, nutritious meals daily to homebound seniors throughout Delaware.
Volunteers deliver hot meals to the elderly in their homes, a lunchtime commitment of 60-90 minutes. Daily, weekly, monthly, and holiday options are available. Volunteers also help with planning and executing eight core fundraising events annually in Delaware.

Ministry of Caring
MinistryofCaring.org, 652-5523
Serves the poor in Wilmington through short-term shelters, food kitchens, child care centers, transitional and long-term housing and long-term senior living. 
The wide variety of programs offered by the Ministry of Caring presents diverse opportunities for volunteers. They can help with administrative duties or in the food kitchens, provide child care, volunteer in the short-term housing and much more.

Read Aloud Delaware
ReadAloudDelaware.org, 877-656-READ
Promotes preschool literacy and encourages a love of reading by ensuring that young children in Delaware are regularly read to one-on-one.
Volunteers read to children ages 2 to 5 in child care centers, Head Start centers and kindergartens at more than 100 locations around the state.

Ronald McDonald House of Delaware Inc.
Rmhde.org, 656-HUGS
Provides a temporary place to stay for families of seriously ill or injured children.
Volunteers assist with day-to-day operations of the House to ensure a warm, supportive environment. They also staff family rooms that the organization runs in three hospitals.

RSVP, New Castle and Sussex counties
Dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dssc/sov/rsvp.html, New Castle: 255-9882, Sussex: 856-5815
RSVP, Kent County
Modern-Maturity.org, 734-1200, ext. 128, or ext. 129
RSVP is a national organization that works to place people 55 and older in volunteer positions. The RSVP programs in New Castle and Sussex counties also seek volunteers for programs that the RSVP runs, such as Care Aware, in which volunteers knit or crochet clothing and layettes, and Del-EASI, through which retired scientists provide unbiased consultative services to legislators. 

Sunday Breakfast Mission
SundayBreakfastMission.org, 656-8542
Serves homeless and low-income people through its homeless shelter, long-term substance abuse program, community meals and numerous other programs.
Volunteers help with food preparation and serving, clothing distribution, thrift shop and annual events . Opportunities exist to work with women and children.

YWCA Delaware
YWCADE.org, 655-0039, ext. 223
Promotes racial justice and empowerment of women. Volunteers are needed to perform office duties at the YWCA’s administrative offices and to work with children in its Home Life Management Center.  

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