This May, we continue our series on the many ways volunteers fight for a more equitable New York City. In honor of Older Americans Month, we’re highlighting how our most seasoned adult volunteers unfailingly demonstrate a deep commitment to our mission of volunteerism.
Many have grown up and lived in the communities they strive to improve while dedicating a lifetime of experience and wisdom to it.
Yet, we cannot overlook the threats that the pandemic has forced upon this community. Throughout Covid-19, older adults have continued their work, whether it’s making thousands of wellness calls or delivering innumerable meals and groceries.
A popular adage at New York Cares is that the older volunteers are, the more projects they do. Despite the fact seniors are at increased risk of severe illness and hospitalization from Covid-19, they continued to show up in force.
Agnes “Nan” Jack has volunteered with New York Cares since 2012. In March 2020, she led a conversation project with the Queens organization VISIONS supporting blind seniors. After the onset of Covid-19, Nan helped this partner pivot to a remote model, continuing to support isolated clients, even as the virus claimed two of their lives.
In a conversation with the Queens Daily Eagle Nan reflected, “Volunteering opens your mind to so many different things. When you volunteer, you get much more out of it than you give.”
Many of New York Cares’ programs aim to improve social connectedness among older adults, who are at the greatest risk of social isolation, which can be brought on by factors like a loss of mobility, unemployment, long-term illness, disabilities, and transport issues. Isolation can lead to severe depression, sleep disturbance, and fatigue.
With safety in mind, our volunteers reduce social isolation for seniors by showing up in numbers to play Bingo, dance and stroll, and make wellness calls through virtual phone banking. In 2021, volunteers made over 28,000 wellness calls to seniors, veterans, and others. These calls ensured basic needs were being met and provided friendly human connections.
To ensure that isolated seniors have the tools to connect with a changing world, we have provided the opportunity to learn and access technology, helping them communicate with family and friends. Projects have included learning computer basics and mobile device literacy.
As spring turns to summer, more opportunities for outdoor, Covid-safe projects are returning. These programs address physical needs of seniors and vulnerable adults through exercise and a healthy diet.
Differences in neighborhood resources have led to inequitable health outcomes in New York City. The National Institutes of Health states that under-resourced populations, including seniors, are less likely to engage in enough physical activity and are at increased risk of morbidity and mortality.
According to the Surgeon General, physical activity has several benefits particularly relevant in later life, including reducing the risk of falls, improving balance and stamina, and delaying the onset of cognitive decline. In addition, those who are physically fit and adhere to a healthy diet have half the risk of chronic health conditions compared to their less active counterparts.
Almost everyone knows the struggle of getting out of the house for a run or visit to the gym, which is why our programs make exercise a communal activity. Studies have found that individuals are more likely to increase exercise activities when receiving emotional support and encouragement.
Gathering in one place and exercising with their peers allowed seniors to participate in physical exercise and go out regularly, leading to interaction with others, prevention of isolation, and healthier daily habits. As the pandemic evolves, we are looking forward to seeing the return of popular projects like Zumba, yoga, walking clubs, and dance classes.
Meanwhile, hunger afflicts communities regardless of age, location, race, or gender identity and is one of the most prevalent threats to our city’s vulnerable populations. During the pandemic, we remained committed to providing healthy food delivery and Covid-safe distributions to seniors suffering from mobility issues, transportation issues, or loss of work.
Food delivery remains one of our most necessary venues of service for this community. In 2021, New York Cares met unprecedented demand by delivering and serving over 33 million meals to New Yorkers experiencing food insecurity, including seniors. Not only do our volunteers provide healthy meals and groceries, they do so with a smiling face and hope for the future.
A lifetime of experience, stake in the community, and wisdom , are incredible assets to our projects. These volunteers have seen the city change, and they know what it means to maintain and support a community in need. Many of them have the most valuable resource of all – time, and they generously use it to help those in need.
This month, consider paying it forward. From isolation and physical wellness to hunger, there are a myriad of pressing issues facing this community. You can make a wellness call, deliver food by foot or bike, play Bingo, and arrange beautiful flower bouquets. Join us in making New York City a more equitable home, no matter your age.
Want to address equity of opportunity by supporting and connecting with older adults? Get started with an orientation at Volunteering Made Easy or donate.