When Ken looks back on his life, a few things stand out, and define him. One is his heritage. Growing up in the Fruitvale neighborhood, he’s fiercely proud of his Latino roots and his culture. But then there’s also the two dominant institutions of his life: the US Navy and Oakland public schools. He spent years in the Navy before spending the rest of his career as an educator and administrator. So, after retirement, he found a way to combine two of his life’s driving forces.
Ken signed up as a volunteer on the historic Navy ship in Alameda harbor. He led tour groups around the ship, which had served in WWII and Vietnam, and was instrumental in the Apollo programs. Not only did Ken develop a renewed sense of purpose, it was also a way for him to use his life experience to help others.
Volunteering wasn’t just a matter of filling hours for Ken and, to the people at the Hornet, he wasn’t just a body. He was someone with immeasurable insights to contribute, who could help them fulfill their mission of education and patriotism. It wasn’t because he had time: it was because of who he was.
That’s what makes volunteering as an older adult so important. We too often feel that seniors can distribute their life wisdom to relatives, or maybe to a younger apprentice, but that’s it. And that’s nonsense. When it comes to volunteer positions, older adults are usually in the best place to contribute. They have a wealth of knowledge, energy, and empathy—and are willing to share it. We’ve talked about the power of volunteering in areas like San Francisco and San Mateo, but if you’re looking to use your gifts to help others in the Oakland area, here are a few great places to start.
Backed by wild natural beauty and fronting one of the great harbors on the continent, it’s no wonder that the Oakland area has a rich and fascinating background. History buffs will find it’s a great place to volunteer in a variety of ways. Organizations often need help with clerical work, fundraising, education, and maintenance. Whatever your skills are, whatever road you have journeyed down, there’s a way for you to help keep Oakland’s rich history alive.
- The USS Hornet: This ship is looking for volunteers to be tour guides, security and safety officers, as well as more specialized education professionals—even aircraft and ship restoration experts. Imagine the thrill of helping to bring a WWII Spitfire back to life.
- The USS Potomac: This Navy cutter was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s yacht and his Pacific base, known as “the floating White House.” No special background is required for their volunteer positions which include “ship’s maintenance, speaker’s bureau, IT specialist, newsletter editing, cruise staffing, dockside tours, office and administrative positions and educational programs.”
- Pardee Home: Built in 1868, this Victorian beauty is one of Oakland’s most historic homes, and the centerpiece of the Preservation Park Historic District. They’re looking for docents and tour guides, but also capable gardeners, exhibit planners, special event coordinators, researchers, and writers for the Pardee Home Newsletter.
LGBTQ-Focused Lavender Seniors of the East Bay
Lavender Seniors offers support services and a “vibrant, caring community” for older adults in the LGBTQ community. This was the generation that fought for civil rights and battled murderous indifference during the plague years, and the Lavender Seniors work to make sure the people in this group are prepared physically, emotionally, and legally for the challenges—and opportunities—that come with aging.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, which is why they’re always in need of dedicated volunteers to help with fundraising, light office work, and mailings. They’re also always looking for helpers to lead committees, assist in advocacy (if you have a legal background), or to serve as a speaker on a panel. This opportunity is ideal for those who have experience with the difficulties members of the LGBTQ community have faced, and still face, and how to overcome them.
Rides for Seniors
One of the more gratifying volunteer opportunities for seniors at IOA is the Friendship Line, where they can offer the gift of empathy, compassion, and hope to other older adults experiencing sadness, isolation, or loneliness. What it comes down to, so many times, is simply having someone to talk to—someone who understands the often mysterious process of aging.
That’s why, in Oakland, the Alameda County Area Agency on Aging (AAA) loves to have older adults volunteer for the Mobility Matters’ Rides for Senior Program. This program is designed to help get aging adults to medical appointments, the store, or simply errands around town. The AAA has opportunities for adults up to age 75 with clean driving records. It’s a rewarding way to show that aging doesn’t have to mean dependence or isolation.
Mentoring and Teaching Opportunities
Imparting wisdom is one of the great gifts of aging. In Oakland, there are many ways to do just that.
- The East Bay College Fund: This fund helps first-generation college students succeed by giving them the personalized tools to do so. There are mentor programs for tutoring and counseling, which involve on-campus support, life skills preparation, and life skills education. These positions are year-long commitments, to provide continuity to the students, but there are also volunteer opportunities in local high schools, in the office, and for special events. Retired professionals can help guide the next generation, imparting wisdom learned over the course of a career—there’s no substitution for experience.
- Experience Corp Reading Mentors: The Experience Corp Bay Area is an AARP organization that finds volunteer opportunities for older adults. This particular one is focused on mentoring children on reading. It’s the blessing of literacy, still the most vital skill for the next generation to possess.
- English in Action: This may be one of the most difficult times to be an immigrant in the US within our lifetime. The English in Action team at the Berkeley/Oakland YWCA helps overcome racism and bigotry by forming connections, and by helping immigrants learn English. It’s a way to remember that we’re all woven together in the always unfinished tapestry of America.
Just as America is unfinished, and just as Oakland and the East Bay are works in progress, so is your life. There is no use-by date where you have to stop contributing, stop helping, and stop growing. It’s backward to think so; you have so much wisdom and experience to share. Oakland seniors come from diverse backgrounds, with different lives, all of which can help to shape the futures of others.
Volunteering is for everyone. All it takes is a little time, a little dedication, and a willingness to share your life. When you volunteer, your years are working for you, and for every life you touch along the way.
Institute on Aging offers a wide range of programs, services, and online resources to help older adults and their caregivers live independently, with dignity and adventure. Get in touch with us today to learn more.