Community Involvement During Later Life

Community Involvement During Later Life

Seniors often play major roles in their communities.  They volunteer, vote, and join clubs and other groups in large numbers.  In fact, club or organizational membership is highest among seniors of all age groups (Vierck & Hodges, 2005). In addition:

  • While the rate of volunteering decreases with age, seniors, among all age groups, devote the most time to volunteering.
  • Virtually all (95 percent) of all seniors give money to charity when asked.
  • Religious organizations are the top membership category for seniors.
  • Seniors have the highest rate of voter participation of all age groups.
  • 86% of people ages 58 to 69 said they had volunteered in the last 12 months.  80% of those age 70 and over said they had volunteered in the past.

The following stories are from the Family Friends project (senior volunteers working with children who have special needs) and Senior Counselors Against Medicare Swindlers (volunteers working in their communities to help identify deceptive health care practices, such as over-billing, overcharging, or providing unnecessary or inappropriate services). They illustrate the tremendous contribution of senior volunteers:

Dorothy, Family Friends Program:

Dorothy adds a unique perspective as a Family Friends volunteer in Dallas, Texas (Family Friends, n.d.). She is a retired military nurse who, with her husband, a military officer, has lived all over the world. Back in the '70s they were stationed in Beirut, Lebanon, where she lost both her legs as a result of a terrorist bombing attack. Once able-bodied, Dorothy understands the physical and mental challenges of learning how to become mobile again. Her hard-earned patience and understanding are what she brings to her new friend, Thomas. She coaxes him to speak - over and over, they blow bubbles and play games that help Thomas form the sounds essential to speech.

Michael T. Carroll, Operation Restore Trust of Iowa:

Michael Carroll had barely retired from his job as a machinist with Bodine Electric Company in 1999 when he became involved with Operation Restore Trust of Iowa as a community education volunteer (Senior Medicare Patrols, 2000). His eight years of military service and his long work history in construction equipped him with a kind of worldly wisdom that has allowed him to easily engage audiences eager to learn about Medicare and Medicaid waste, fraud, and abuse. what many members of his audience remember best is being scammed by Mr. Carroll. He subtly asks his all-too-trusting audiences to take out their Medicare cards for him, and most of them do so without a second thought.

He points outo how easily he could take advantage of anyone who gives his or her card to him. He continues by teaching people what they can do to protect themselves and their numbers. Mr. Carroll comments, "Until I give a presentation and not one person gives me their Medicare card, my job isn't finished."

In 2003 AARP published results of their survey, Time and Money: An In Depth Look at 45+ Volunteers and Donors (AARP, 2003). The study over-sampled African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic and used a new definition of volunteering and giving based on adding behaviors not usually captured by traditional research. These behaviors include activities such as neighborhood cleanup projects, mowing the lawn for an elderly neighbor, a letter-writing campaign to troops in Iraq, or any other positive social behaviors that result in the betterment of one's community.

AARP's innovative approach resulted in a higher percentage of seniors as volunteers or donors than found by other research organizations that commonly gather statistics on volunteering. Eighty-six percent of people ages 58 to 69 said they had volunteered in the last 12 months, and 80 percent of those ages 70 and over said they had volunteered.

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.