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.