For many seniors, the years after retirement are an opportunity to work in volunteer positions and give back to the community.
In another time, seniors might volunteer at a retirement home, a fundraising thrift shop or a hospital. These days, these types of volunteer jobs can be risky. Some do not even exist right now, since working directly with retirement home residents is not allowed because of the risks to both residents and volunteers.
So, what can a community-minded senior volunteer do in the time of COVID-19?
Consider creative new ways of communicating with others, such as by FaceTime or Zoom. That way, you can stay involved without putting yourself or others in danger.
Another option is to work in a lower-risk situation, such as sorting food for a food bank, filing library books or working with animals. You can also make things that others need, such as face masks.
Support a healthy cause
After retiring from his 40-year career in health care, Paul Carbone wanted to do a volunteer job in his field. The ideal opportunity came with working as a volunteer contact tracer for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Following an extensive training program, Carbone began doing contact tracing calls to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or those who may have been exposed to people with the coronavirus.
“It is very rewarding to talk to these people, and some are very scared,” he says. “But I can provide them with information and guide them through the process.”
There is an extremely urgent need for volunteer contact tracers, who typically work two hours a day, five days a week. They should have strong interpersonal skills, and be comfortable conducting phone interviews with patients who tested positive for COVID-19 or people they have been in contact with over the last few weeks. Having a health care background can be helpful. It is important to have a calm, reassuring demeanor since many people may be stressed by the call.
For more information on contact tracing, visit health.pa.gov.
Share a skill
Ruth Gilbert is a retired teacher, who has found a niche as a volunteer tutor. During COVID-19, many students have struggled with online learning.
“It's hard for students to adjust to all the changes and sometimes they need extra tutoring,” says Gilbert, who tutors in reading, English, language arts and literature.
She has two high school students who needed extra help with their studies, and she is able to teach virtually in late afternoons, early evenings and on weekends, when students are not in class.
If you have a background in teaching or have a skill such as art, music or a craft, you can set up volunteer classes for students or even for older people who want to learn something new.
Share your experience
Retired business people can serve as volunteers at places like SCORE, putting their experience to work for others. In 2020, the mentors at SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon were able to provide 3,869 free mentoring sessions to small business owners, startups and nonprofit leaders, donating a total of 4,599 volunteer mentor hours.
SCORE offers the nation's largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, who share their talents and expertise with the small business community. You can help as a mentor, offering confidential business mentoring services; a subject matter expert, providing focused knowledge based on your professional skills or industry; or a workshop presenter, leading local workshops, seminars and events to help entrepreneurs meet their goals and achieve success.
In the past, these services were provided in person, but now mentors and other volunteers are working remotely, so that both the volunteer and the business can stay safe during the pandemic.
The expertise of SCORE mentors was especially vital for businesses, as mentors helped guide 150 SCORE clients through the loan and grant application process to secure essential funding in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Share your love
If you love animals, you can still safely volunteer for animal rescue organizations in Lancaster County, like the Humane League of Lancaster County, Pet Pantry, Furever Home and Lancaster County SPCA. These animal rescue organizations often need volunteers who can walk dogs, feed dogs and cats, clean cages and litter boxs, and provide TLC.
You can also volunteer to foster rescue kittens or puppies until they are old enough or healthy enough to be adopted. Since this is done at home, you can avoid any risky contact with people and provide a good start to animals in need.
“I love taking care of tiny kittens who need extra help. It is so rewarding, except that I sometimes want to keep them all,” says volunteer Jean Miller.
Working at home or remotely also gives you the opportunity to volunteer farther afield.
As a Smithsonian digital volunteer, you can transcribe historical documents for the Washington, D.C., museum. You don't even have to leave home to make a mark on history by transcribing field notes, diaries, ledgers, logbooks, currency proof sheets, photo albums, manuscripts, biodiversity specimens labels and historic audio recordings.
For more information, visit https://transcription.si.edu.
Be a virtual friend
For those who want to work with the elderly, there are creative ways to reach out to people who are feeling lonely and afraid. If you have an iPad or tablet, use it to visit with a retirement community resident who would love to see a friendly face, make a new friend, and chat about grandchildren, hobbies or shared interests. You can also read to a resident who has vision issues. Hearing is often less challenging, since they can turn up the volume.
If you play the piano or sing, you can arrange to do a live stream at a local nursing home or retirement community. In the past, homes had weekly entertainment, but now they cannot have live performances. The elderly love to listen to concerts and other performances, which can be live-streamed or recorded from the safety of your home.