Communities of Strength through Service
Edwin Walker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging, ACL, and Atalaya Sergi, Director, AmeriCorps Seniors
COVID-19 has changed so much of how we live, work, and connect with each other. We have had to adjust in unprecedented ways to protect ourselves and those around us. The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on older adults, who found themselves distanced from family, friends, services, and other supports. Despite these extraordinary challenges, older adults throughout the nationwide aging services network have found ways to safely volunteer and serve, providing invaluable support to their communities.
Giving back isn’t a new trend for older Americans, but the pandemic has presented unique and ever-growing opportunities to serve, including:
- Assisting in accessing vaccines by scheduling appointments, providing transportation to vaccine clinics, administering vaccines, identifying homebound individuals who need in-home vaccines, and educating family and friends;
- Delivering meals, groceries, and other supplies to homebound and high-risk community members, first responders, and frontline workers;
- Staffing helplines, writing letters of encouragement, and contributing to other social support systems to combat social isolation;
- Making masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment;
- Donating blood, and
- Teaching virtual courses and mentoring students through remote learning.
Many of these efforts have been made possible by dedicated AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers. Part of AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps Seniors is a federal program for service, volunteering, and civic engagement for adults age 55 and older. Each year, almost 200,000 retirees, veterans, and older Americans make a positive impact on their communities, serving with AmeriCorps Seniors’ partner organizations while helping friends, neighbors, and strangers alike.
Research shows that giving back to their communities also helps older adult volunteers, who are especially at risk of social isolation. Volunteering improves physical and mental health, helps build new relationships and social connections, increases independence, and fosters a greater sense of purpose.
Volunteers echo those findings. Ned, 74, and his wife Bonnie, 74, collectively have given more than 7,000 hours of service through AmeriCorps Seniors programs. In accepting his Presidential Volunteer Service Award earlier this month, Ned shared that while he’d like to say his service is altruistic, it’s more than that. “I get a lot out of it. It gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”
This Older Americans Month, the Administration for Community Living, and AmeriCorps Seniors recognize the older adult volunteers who have served their fellow Americans during the past year. Their countless contributions, both great and small, in-person and virtual, strengthen communities across the country and help to move us all forward toward a post-pandemic world.
As we begin our journey into the “new normal,” let us commit to creating opportunities to keep older adults volunteering—for their benefit and for the communities they serve.
Find volunteer opportunities and resources at AmeriCorps Seniors, AARP Create the Good, and Volunteer Match virtual opportunities. And visit ACL’s Commit to Connect page to learn about our public-private partnership to combat social isolation and loneliness.