Here at New York Cares, our tens of thousands of volunteers—nearly a thousand of whom are over the age of 65—are at the heart of everything we do. While COVID-19 has presented many challenges for all and heartbreak and loss for too many, the pandemic profoundly affected older Americans.
A recent report from the University of Chicago and partners TMNCorp and Burness titled “Maintaining Physical and Mental Well-Being of Older Adults and Their Caregivers During Public Health Emergencies” found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults reported feelings of social isolation and loneliness, anxiety about contracting the virus and giving it to others, concern about feeling safe enough to venture out and buy household necessities like food, and uncertainty about how to use technology for health care and connection to loved ones.
We’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Volunteering is good for your mental health because it provides much needed connection and a sense of purpose. But at the beginning of the pandemic and at the guidance of the City of New York, many older volunteers had to stop volunteering altogether or radically adapt to keep themselves healthy and safe. Today, after more than a year of the pandemic, more than half of New Yorkers are vaccinated against the coronavirus and we are thrilled that our older volunteers can now participate on more projects, and not a moment too soon.
Take two shining examples of New York Cares volunteers over the age of 65, Agnes “Nan” Jack and Jane Rainone.
Nan Jack has been serving with New York Cares since November 2012, and since then has given more than 442 hours of her time in service. In March, 2020, Nan had been working closely with a Queens-based organization called VISIONS that supports blind Seniors by engaging them in conversation about local and world news. As the pandemic took hold, it became clear that she could no longer lead the onsite program she had been running for nine years, and quickly pivoted to adapt to a remote model.
She recently told the Queens Daily Eagle that volunteers and participants at VISIONS have always been close, but that the isolation of the pandemic strengthened their bonds and became a safe space to share news, vaccine resources, and to support one another as the pandemic left them feeling isolated and took the lives of two in their group and some of their loved ones.
But there is good news on the horizon. Nan said that everyone in the group is now vaccinated and that they all hope to return to in-person sessions soon. “Volunteering opens your mind to so many different things,” she said. “When you volunteer, you get much more out of it than you give.
Jane Rainone has been volunteering with New York Cares for so long that she found her first volunteer project through a newspaper ad! She began her volunteer service in January 1998, and since then has volunteered on 1,388 projects totaling 3,113 hours, primarily at the Isabella Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care and Gigi’s Playhouse, an organization that provides programming and support for people with Down Syndrome and their families. Because of a series of challenges over the past year, including the passing of her beloved husband, surgery, and COVID-19, Jane hasn’t been able to serve the communities she loves, but she’s feeling better every day and is almost ready to get back at it.
She has many stories about the incredible people she’s met over her years of volunteering, but says it’s the relationships with fellow volunteers and those she has served that have impacted her most. Jane recently told us, “You never know who you’re going to meet and everyone has a story to tell. In volunteering, you meet wonderful people that make an impact on your life, whether you’re serving them or volunteering with them. I’m very close with other volunteers who have been here for me and I’m so lucky.”
The truth is, we’re the lucky ones to have volunteers like Nan and Jane, who exemplify our mission and our city: caring, tough, and resilient.