Volunteer! It’s Good For You!

If you’re getting up in years and just getting up out of bed in the morning has become a challenge, searching for volunteer work may be the last thing on your mind.  But it may be just the boost you need.  There is a growing body of research that indicates just how important it is to stay active by doing volunteer work after we retire.

It’s not hard to imagine that “giving back” helps us to find a genuine sense of meaning and purpose in later life, and that this good feeling can give us a health lift.  To volunteer at any age feels good, but for a retired person with a lifetime of skills and experience, using that knowledge to improve the lives of others reminds us that although we are getting older, our value is not diminished.  Sociologist Erik Erikson coined the term
“generativity” to describe this stage of human development.  Generativity is the satisfying work that a person does later in life that firmly establishes the fact that something
worthwhile has been produced for the coming generation, or for the good of the

The satisfaction of having given something worthwhile to our community not only produces a good feeling in us; it has been proven in many studies to help us live much longer!  A  research project led by Arizona State University psychologist Morris Okun
concluded that “…among older adults with some functional limitations, the risk of mortality is approximately three times greater for those who did little or no volunteering, relative to those who volunteer more frequently.”

Drs. Harris and Thoresen at Stanford University published their findings of a link between volunteering and mortality in the Journal of Health Psychology. They monitored a sample of over 7500 seniors in the United States for 8 years. Compared to people who “never volunteered,” people who “volunteered rarely” had a 41 percent decrease in mortality risk. People reporting that they “sometimes volunteered” reduced their risk of death by 42 percent, while those “volunteering frequently” reduced their risk by 53 percent. In addition, senior volunteers report better mood and health than those who don’t volunteer.

Seniors often develop loneliness, depression, and worsening of physical health as they retire from meaningful work and begin to lose friends and relatives. Volunteering helps fill this important gap. Formal volunteer programs can help provide an important new identity and purpose for older adults. This new sense of purpose results in an improved life attitude, as well as the health benefits that go along with increasing social engagement.

The Shepherd’s Center of Richmond is a volunteer-driven organization of seniors who volunteer to help other seniors.  Each year, Shepherd’s Center volunteers contribute over 10,000 hours of service as teachers, drivers, handymen, and as committee members coordinating the work of the Center.

Consider volunteering this summer.  It’s just what the doctor ordered!


One Mission

Each year, more than 350 people regularly attend the Open University, some of whom are Shepherd’s Center volunteers. For many people, however, there seems to be a “disconnect” between the Open University on the one hand, and the personal services aspect of The Shepherd’s Center on the other. What, exactly, is the relationship between the two?

The mission of The Shepherd’s Center is to enrich the lives of older people and enable them to continue to live independent, meaningful lives. The Center accomplishes this mission in several focused ways. The first is to ensure that seniors in the community have adequate access to health care, to food, to minor but critical home repairs and to basic human interaction like friendly callers and visitors. Meeting these needs helps enable older people to remain independent as long as possible.

The second focus is to provide life-long learning opportunities and to minimize isolation. The Open University offers countless ways to challenge and inspire the mind in a setting where friendship and fellowship happen naturally.

While it may appear that the Shepherd’s Center is the Open University, and that the Center “also” offers volunteer help to seniors in the community; the truth is that there is just one single mission that takes several forms.

At the heart of every aspect of The Shepherd’s Center is volunteerism. This is the third focus of the Center – to provide the opportunity for older adults to find genuine meaning and purpose in their lives through making a difference in the lives of others. Whether you become actively engaged as a teacher, a driver, a committee member, or in some other capacity, it is your involvement, your work, that makes The Shepherd’s Center what it is. In fact, without volunteers, there simply is no Shepherd’s Center.

For more than 25 years, The Shepherd’s Center has been a source of joy and compassionate help for seniors in the Richmond area. Please help to spread the word about the importance of this mission. By doing so, you too become an active part of this wonderful organization.

Feldenkrais… Felden-what?!

The following article appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch on January 30, 2011, and features one of our Feldenkrais teachers at the Open University, Cas Overton.  Feldenkrais is taught on Thursdays at the O.U.

Feldenkrais positions help body and brain to allow more mobility
By Maria Howard
Published: January 30, 2011

 Mary Frances Hobbs had hip-replacement surgery in 1998. She started taking Feldenkrais Method lessons a year later. 

“I wanted to be mobile, and arthritis and bad hips were keeping me from doing that,” said Hobbs, a chemistry teacher for the MathScience Innovation Center in Richmond. 

Feldenkrais got her moving more freely again. And so far, she hasn’t had to have the second hip replaced. 

Hobbs was one of the participants at the group Feldenkrais lesson led by Cas Overton at the Shepherd’s Center this month. Feldenkrais lessons, which involve positions that help the body, nervous system and brain to allow for new movement, are most commonly done one-on-one with an instructor. 

That’s where Hobbs started. Now, she’s maintaining her mobility and flexibility with the group lessons. “I really walk out of here feeling taller,” she said with a laugh. “It never hurts.” 

Hobbs said her scientific curiosity makes her wonder how and why the lessons are so helpful. 

“I know that my body is positioned where it needs to be … and I’m not sure how it all works, but I just know it works,” she said. 

Overton, who has taught Feldenkrais since the mid-1990s, had a background in dancing and tai chi. 

“Movement has just been imperative for me,” she said. So when she discovered this method for helping people to regain mobility, she decided to become trained in it. She has worked with all types of limitations, including paralysis and debilitating diseases. More often, she sees people with neck, shoulder and lower-back problems. 

The result is not necessarily full mobility. But Feldenkrais usually helps, she said. “It can open up synapses in the brain that are just dormant.” 

Feldenkrais is also used by athletes looking to increase speed and coordination. Because the positions and instruction stimulate awareness of the body and the brain’s role in controlling it, many athletes get significant results by adding these lessons to their regular workout regimen. 

Overton showed me some basic positions and stretches used in Feldenkrais. Although I didn’t have a particular area of injury or immobility, I did feel that the short lesson helped me feel less stiff and tight. 

The system was designed in the early 1900s by Moshe Feldenkrais, a physicist, engineer and judo master who suffered crippling knee injuries and had to learn to walk again. 

Physical therapists often take an interest in Feldenkrais, Overton said, because the method approaches injury and immobility in a slightly different way. 

“It’s never fast,” Overton said. “It’s never uncomfortable.” 

The goal with Feldenkrais is to link the body and brain with nonpainful movements that will lead to better healing. 

For instance, at the Shepherd’s Center, Overton did a whole class on lower-body awareness, balance and “walking with attention.” Toward the end, she asked participants to roll their ankles one way and then the other, being aware of what the ankles were doing and their role in supporting the body. 

“Awareness is the big word” in Feldenkrais, Overton said. “You need that neurological connection.” 

Maria Howard is a group exercise instructor for the YMCA of Greater Richmond. Her column runs every other week in Sunday Flair. 

Check out http://www.feldenkrais.com for a list of certified practitioners as well as classes and events

Original article: http://www2.timesdispatch.com/lifestyles/2011/jan/30/feldenkrais-positions-help-body-and-brain-allow-mo-ar-806022/

Seniors, Non-Profits, and Social Media, Oh My!

When I set out to redesign our website, the immediate challenge seemed to be how to create a site that would be “senior friendly”.   I had to wonder ~ What exactly does that mean?  I wanted to create a site that was easily navigated by the men and women who make up the extraordinary organization that I am privileged to direct, The Shepherd’s Center of Richmond.  For more than 25 years, TSCOR (The Shepherd’s Center) has been a vital and vibrant part of the Richmond, Virginia community, though surprisingly few people know about it.  TSCOR is all about people who are 50 and better, and there are some stereotypes that persist when it comes to “seniors” and computers, not to mention social media.  There’s a notion that “they aren’t online”.  So why bother with a website at all?

The fact is, that women over 55 are the fastest growing demographic group of Facebook users, and those over 60 are doing far more online than keeping up with the grandchildren.  Take a look at this article from CMS Wire.com, Social Media Minute:  Seniors Embrace the Web or this one from Mashable – Baby Boomers and Seniors are Flocking to Facebook  Our stereotypes may need a drastic overhaul!

My staff and I have been to several conferences in the past year which focused on the need for non-profits to get with the program with respect to web presence and the use of social media.  My task became clearer:  Build a good website – period.  The seniors will do just fine.  There is a wealth of information on the web and in print about how to develop a non-profit site that will be accessible to your members, informative to those seeking to use your services, and clear to your donors.  There is an enormous and ever-growing body of research available to guide non-profits as they begin to understand what motivates and inspires Baby Boomers to volunteer.  Ultimately, the task was to distill some of this information and create what we hope will be a successful website.   I did try to make it easy on the eyes with a black on white format and a font size that was easily readable. 

So today, we’re celebrating the launch of The Shepherd’s Center’s new web home.  There is still a little tweaking to do, but I think we’re ready to be a presence on the web and in the blogosphere.  If you’re curious about what The Shepherd’s Center is and does, you’re warmly invited to take a tour!  For our members, the over-50 crowd, WELCOME!  Don’t hesitate to “share” this blog post on your Facebook page, or post a link in your twitter feed!  I hope you’ll find the new site clear and easy to use.