She stopped for a second, interrupting her duties, which at the moment consisted of organizing a circle of musicians—older adults who had either once played an instrument or were taking it up for the first time after a long life of wondering if they could play. I asked her why she volunteered, why she took out hours out of her day to better the lives of strangers.
She asked if I’ve ever read God Bless You, Mrs. Rosewater, by Kurt Vonnegut. When I told her I hadn’t, she quoted her favorite passage. It took place during a baptism. The baptizer says:
“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about 100 years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies … you’ve got to be kind.”
Today, as we approach October 28th, National Make a Difference Day, those words ring true. We can make a difference in people’s lives. Across San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, one of the most important ways people of all ages can make a difference is through volunteerism. By volunteering to work with older adults, such as becoming a nursing home volunteer, you can make a difference for someone who may be sad, lonely, and may just want and need someone to be kind to them.
That kindness may ultimately be the only rule that really matters.
The Importance of Volunteering
We all, ultimately, want to be kind. But sometimes life intrudes on our intentions, with the need to pay the bills and raise our family. We can’t dedicate our lives to those who need us because someone is always in need. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.
In the Bay Area alone, volunteers can help make life exciting, wonderful, and full of adventure. We live in a region undergoing vast economic upheavals, and many who have lived full lives in the area are suddenly stranded on the exposed rocks of economic uncertainty. For many, nursing homes are the only option.
At Institute on Aging, we strongly encourage people to age in place, at home, with the freedom and opportunity that provides. But we know that isn’t always possible. Older adults will always be at nursing homes, and they are no less deserving of the fruits and enjoyments of twilight than their at-home peers.
That’s where volunteer work comes in.
Volunteers at nursing homes make all the difference. There are incredibly kind and dedicated staff members at nursing homes who work so hard to make sure all the residents enjoy the care they deserve. But we also know that so many homes are underfunded and understaffed, and the brave, loving people there often burn the candle at both ends.
Volunteers can help alleviate that pressure by providing care, love, compassion, and time. Volunteers make every day better for both the residents and the staff of nursing homes. In doing so, they help make aging a place of adventure, excitement, and growth. They make aging a part of life and not the end of it. They make the world a better place.
Here’s how you can join in.
Ways to Become a Nursing Home Volunteer in San Francisco
There are no classes or degrees required to become a nursing home volunteer in San Francisco. Volunteers can come from every age group and background.
Here are a few places to inquire about becoming a nursing home volunteer:
- Nursing Home Monitors: A group making sure no older adult faces substandard care. Founded in 1955, this is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. They also protect older adults who are undocumented immigrants.
- The Volunteer Center: Focused on San Francisco and San Mateo counties, the Volunteer Center connects people with organizations and causes. This is a great way to find ways to help older adults in homes.
- SeniorCare.com: Senior Care helps match volunteers with causes across the country. Wherever you are, this is a resource to help you find a place to fit your kindness.
But, honestly, there isn’t a nursing home that wouldn’t like volunteers to run programs, play music, organize events, help with payroll, cook in the kitchen, clean dishes, make calls, fundraise, or sit quietly at nights to administer to the lonely. There is no job that is small; no kindness unappreciated.
Ways to Volunteer to Help Older Adults Aging at Home
Of course, in addition to nursing homes, there is always a need for volunteers at Institute on Aging, which helps older adults age in place. Our volunteers are all ages, including older adults who want to work with their peers. There is no age limit on volunteerism.
Here, our volunteers help older adults who are trying to live at home and age in place. By volunteering, you can truly make a difference. You help provide the gifts of dignity and pride that come with self-sufficiency. You help ease the burden on family members and caregivers. You make lives better. And you help create the possibility of more adventures, excitement, and fun in older age.
We can use volunteers in every field. We are always looking for volunteers on our Friendship Line. As a volunteer, you are trained to provide a voice of comfort and companionship to people who feel lost and alone in the later stages of their lives.
We also value professional skills that can guide older adults in new adventures. We’re always looking for musicians, artists, yoga instructors, docents, and more for our Social Day Program and other services. Your professional expertise is also appreciated in the areas of physical and occupational therapy, nutrition, among others.
What are you good at? Where do your talents lie? Do you have the gift of empathy and the rare reserve of kindness? Wherever you are, and whatever you can do, older adults depend on you to overcome a society that too often shuts them away, closing doors instead of holding them wide open.
We need volunteers to help our aging loved ones live the life they deserve. Volunteers make this earth a little brighter. We hope you’ll give your time.
At Institute on Aging, our mission is to help older adults thrive while aging at home. We offer services, including home care and financial services, as well as social programs, to help aging adults do just that. Contact us today to learn more.