Combating Senior Isolation with Volunteerism
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Combating Senior Isolation with Volunteerism
Senior isolation is a social issue that many of our senior citizens face today. It is estimated that 40% of our senior population suffers from senior isolation. Senior isolation in the elderly has been linked to an increase in illnesses, mortality, depression, elder abuse and a higher incidence of the elderly needing long term care services. It is one of the largest risks to our aging senior’s health and well-being.
Volunteer work can help combat senior isolation and have a positive impact on a senior’s health. Senior citizens make up 15.2 percent of the total population of the United States according to the 2016 census bureau and it is reported that by 2060 the number of senior citizens will double. Senior volunteer programs that promote involvement can assist in combating isolation and the negative health consequences while keeping our seniors healthy and active within their communities.
Senior Corps is an organization that currently engages roughly 220,000 older adults between the ages of 55 and above within America in service to their communities through its Foster Grandparent, Senior companion and RSVP programs according to Nationalservice.gov.
Utilizing the strengths and assets of our seniors today not only keeps our seniors from isolation but also benefits the communities in which they live.
The primary focus of Senior corps is to utilize the strengths, skills and attributes of seniors 55 and above to help tutor, mentor, care for and volunteer to meet the needs of others within their community while also having mutually positive benefits to the health and wellness of the aging senior population.
Senior Corp programs not only improve the lives of those served but also the lives of the senior volunteers. Service learning opportunities within Senior Corps could produce beneficial outcomes for the American communities that Senior Corps volunteers, the partnering universities and the student service learners reside.
The collegiate service learning students can play an instrumental role in increasing awareness with marketing strategies including recruitment events and informative meetings to promote participation, and enrollment into the programs.
Creating and implementing marketing plans while utilizing their technology skills and social media platforms, collegiate service learners can assist Senior Corps in increasing the number of senior volunteers enrolled within each of the programs. Intergenerational learning can promote valuable relationships and partnerships that help bridge the generation gap.
Service learners in intergeneration settings report “positive outcomes related to a better understanding of the older generation, enjoyment of interacting with the elders, appreciation of the life experiences and personal insights shared by the elders, and most importantly, they agreed that intergenerational learning was achieved” Tarn, M. (2014).
Senior adults report physical health, mental health, and decreased morbidity benefits related to volunteerism. Roland, C., & Van Puymbroeck, M. (2007). Senior volunteerism can combat senior isolation and lead to health and wellness benefits for participating seniors.
It is vital that more of the senior population is aware of the risks associated with senior isolation and get involved. Service learners at Senior Corps can be instrumental in promoting volunteerism and increase the number of senior volunteers nationwide.
Senior Corps helps meet many needs of American communities while also providing benefits to their senior volunteers. The Senior Corp programs of Foster Grandparent, Senior Companion and RSVP were originally separate but combined into one organization in 1993 under the corporation for National and Community service by president Bill Clinton according to Nationalservice.gov.
Foster Grandparents utilizes the experiences of the volunteers to assist and tutor children and mentor children with difficult lives.
The Senior Companion program pairs volunteers with other older Americans that need assistance with every day activities. The programs goal is to keep seniors in their homes longer and provide companionship to the elderly senior and any possible caregivers.
The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program or RSVP program serves a variety of needs within communities ranging from disaster relief, education needs to future needs.
Utilizing the senior volunteer strengths gives the senior a sense of community and also helps diminish biases against the elderly. Service learning opportunities within Senior Corps have the ability to build relationships between generations helping to change the way that younger generations perceive seniors.
The learning experiences within Senior Corp could benefit many different degree programs ranging from human resources, business administration, human services and marketing to name a few. The experience of marketing Senior Corp, recruitment strategies and administrative duties could be a beneficial attribute for students in their occupations after graduation.
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Senior Corps has partnered in the past with many large corporations such as the AARP, Catholic Charities, and the United Way. They also have many corporate supporters such as Google, Southwest Airlines and Walmart.
These partnerships would provide valuable experiences for the student service learner to have a greater understanding of how collaboration from these partnerships leads to new and innovative ideas, a greater understanding of civic duties and how they can make a difference within their communities.
Student service learners could collaborate with senior Corp volunteers, corporate supporters and corporate partnerships to outreach to the communities and raise funds and supplies needed for the senior volunteers and the population that they serve.
Taking this intergenerational approach together can benefit both the student and the senior volunteer. Student learners could be involved in project management agendas to increase corporate partnerships with other organizations that would benefit from the skills of the senior volunteers and assist in meeting their needs of the organization.
The Senior Corp organization relies on volunteers of the ages 55 and up to provide the volunteer needs of their established programs. The volunteers work with the organization to decide the best placement and use of their skills and assets within the three programs. Service learning students can assist the senior volunteer with the administrative duties that surround correct placement within the programs.
Increasing senior volunteer enrollment and senior participation within Senior Corps is vital for continued growth and success of their organization. Student service learning opportunities within the recruitment of seniors can dramatically impact the future of Senior Corp.
Senior Corps approaches the needs of the communities they serve with mainly a solidarity approach. Challenges of service learning at Senior Corps may include acceptance, respect, differences of beliefs associated with diverse locations and diverse clientele within communities.
Addressing these societal, cultural, and potential risks can also serve as learning opportunities for the service learning student. The programs are designed to enhance and set in motion change for the future populations they serve to work together for betterment of the community. “Communities must embrace senior citizens as a resource, instead of considering them merely a client group that must be served” (Keating, Tornishima, Alessandri, 2002).
Valuing our seniors and bridging the biases associated with aging can create unified communities of which value is placed on all ages and lead to increased health and well-being of the senior population. Shadowing the senior volunteers assigned to the three programs would enhance the service learning students understanding of the programs and lead to a greater passion with recruitment, placement and other administrative aspects that benefit the senior volunteers. Combining the skill set of the senior volunteer with a student has shown to “enhance psychological and social well-being of the older adult and the student” (Au, A.,Ng,E, Garner, B., Lai, S., & Chan, K. (2015).
Senior Corps vision is to utilize the strengths of the senior population to strengthen the communities throughout America by improving the lives of those in need and improving the lives of seniors. The health benefits of the senior volunteer programs are reported to decrease health issues, anxiety, depression and social isolation of the volunteer senior. Senior Corp volunteers report “enhanced physical capacity, and higher life satisfaction” according to Senior Corps.com.
Wilhelm 2007, reported that senior volunteering helps strengthen social ties during a potentially difficult time in life. Addressing the community needs while engaging senior volunteers assists in combating senior isolation and helps strengthen communities throughout America. Challenges exist in the marketing to potential senior volunteers and continued funding to the programs themselves.
Service learning opportunities with a focus on recruitment and community outreach to senior living communities, community centers, churches and libraries to name a few can be performed by the service learning student to help address these challenges and reach potential volunteers.
A study as reported by SeniorCorps.com in 2014 on their Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions programs found that approximately 90% of Foster Grandparents and 83% of Senior Companions were women. In addition to 41% of Foster Grandparents and 38% of Senior Companion volunteers were African American.
Recruitment strategies and events to increase the number of male volunteers paired with strategies and events to increase the number of volunteers of diversity would assist Senior Corps in better serving a diverse community. The inequality of gender situation not only prevents men from enjoying the benefits of helping others but also deprives charities of their skills according to Gienow.M. (2009).
The student service learners can personally utilize the information provided by service learning to “develop strategies, create marketing plans, and improve internal operations or at a minimum provide reference or support for their previous thoughts” Visenor, N., Souza, T., & Ertmer, J. (2016). Administrative assistance within the administrative office to keep funding avenues open with items such as potential grants can also offer student learning experiences for the student learner.
Zedlewski, S. & Schaner S. (2006) note that Congress should consider the value of expanding programs that target senior volunteerism such as Senior Corps and other volunteer opportunities as boomers approach their retirement years. Volunteering is believed to assume an especially important role among the elderly, particularly if they are retired, since it can help protect them from the pitfalls of retirement, physical decline, and inactivity, becoming serious leisure, Wilson and Musick (2000).
Participation in volunteer programs and increasing the awareness of the health benefits can assist in tackling the issues surrounding senior isolation. Service learning experiences within Senior Corps has the potential to dramatically increase the number of senior volunteers participating and increase the health and wellness of our seniors and future generations.
Promoting senior volunteerism by educating seniors on the risks associated with senior isolation, by increasing recruitment and outreach to the senior population. Through service learning at Senior Corps the students will gain intergenerational experiences helping address the biases associated with the aging population and set in motion positive change.
Service learners at Senior Corps would experience collaboration between the youth and the aging population utilizing resources from both generations for the betterment of all the communities served. Increased recruitment of senior volunteers is fundamental to the health and well-being of our senior population.
Combating Senior Isolation with Volunteerism
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