Hagley volunteers Raymond and Susan Sander./Photo by Scott Pruden
When Susan and Raymond Sander moved to Delaware six years ago, they knew no one. They began volunteering at Hagley Museum in Wilmington shortly after their arrival, finding a welcoming community of dedicated volunteers and staff. Now the couple spends almost every day working on projects for Hagley, doing anything from raising scholarship funds to dressing as Santa during holiday events.
“We got started on a very small scale and it just got more interesting,” Raymond Sander says. “We’ve made a lot of friends.”
Volunteers over 55 provide crucial programming support to Delaware nonprofits, filling the gaps where funding is short or nonexistent.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” says Susan Strawbridge, a volunteer coordinator at Hagley. “They’re vital to what we do.”
Photo by Scott Pruden
An array of nonprofits play a significant role in the state’s social and economic landscape—from tourist attractions to literacy programs—and volunteer retirees along with golden agers are crucial to helping keep them afloat.
“They have the time [and] they’re an active group of people,” explains Ann Gorrin, a program manager for Volunteer Delaware 50+ in Sussex County, a government initiative that matches individuals over age 50 with service opportunities throughout the state.
“With this particular generation, there’s a drive to give back to the community,” she continues. “This generation has a huge heart and a huge will to give back. I think it’s partly the way they were brought up and partly that they’re in better health.”
Community organizations like the statewide Read Aloud Delaware—which pairs volunteers with preschool children for weekly reading sessions to encourage early-start literacy—benefit enormously from this age group’s generosity and professional skills.
Roxanne Nelson has volunteered with Read Aloud Sussex County since its inception in 1985, where she focuses on outreach and fundraising. Since she retired from teaching kindergarten in 2000, this has been an ideal way for her to continue to have a positive impact on children’s lives.
“I always felt that if I was ever going to make a difference, it would be with children,” Nelson says. “I taught for 30 years. It was just where I loved to be.”
Read Aloud has about 250 volunteers in Sussex County alone. The majority are retired, and many are former educators.
“Most of the time I hear from volunteers that they get back more than they’re giving to the children,” says Stacy Penarada, a volunteer coordinator for Read Aloud Sussex County. “Once the kids get to know them, they walk into the center and the kids are clamoring to be read to.”
The symbiotic relationship between retiree volunteers and the organizations they serve isn’t unique to Read Aloud. Throughout Delaware, volunteers can match their skills and interests with the numerous positions available, allowing them to serve their communities while doing what they love.
Take Barbara Bareford, a yoga instructor at the University of Delaware Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She was recruited by a Volunteer Delaware 50+ organizer to become a coach at Matter of Balance, a free program that helps older adults manage and prevent injuries from falling. Bareford recognized the fear of falling as a pervasive problem among seniors and knew that she had the tools and skills to help them.
“Often, people become depressed when they feel that they’re getting weak and can’t get out of their recliner chair,” Bareford says. “I see them in such a state and I want to turn that around.”
In addition to helping those in need, volunteering allows retired adults to stay active and meet new people. In the town of Millville is a group of adult volunteers who help organize community events, run charity fundraisers and do office work for the small Sussex County town. Pat Moulder, the group’s chairwoman, says her role has helped her stay connected to the community.
“I volunteer because I’m not going to sit in the house all day and vegetate,” she says. “It gets me out. I’ve met so many people. And for the majority of the folks in my group, it gets them out of the house and keeps them active.”