Opinion: Volunteers give more than their time

Apr 25, 2022

Coastline Elderly Services, like many other service organizations, approached National Volunteer Appreciation Week from April 17-23 this year with a newfound understanding of what volunteers mean to the older and disabled adults we serve.

Well before the pandemic, we valued and appreciated the many volunteers who gave of their time to help others through the organization. 

These include older adults, like Anne Demers, a 91-year-old woman who has been volunteering as a foster grandparent in New Bedford classrooms for more than a decade, and Scott Baxter, a retiree who has worked with Coastline Money Management clients for 10 years and currently helps one woman organize and pay her bills regularly, due to her inability to see. All had our gratitude for the skills and abilities they offered. 

Then lockdowns hit and we lost the ability to be in the same physical space as the people we support. Classrooms went virtual and extra protection was required even for one-on-one visits to the homes of elders or those living with disabilities.

Nursing home visits were impossible and volunteer ombudsman support had to be offered virtually.

Many personal connections were lost in those early days of the pandemic, and we discovered that no matter how important the skill, Coastline volunteers do much more than complete activities or offer skilled coaching. Their very presence matters. 

They provide care, affection, and companionship as they help – qualities that are all too rare in some environments. 

It’s sad but true that loneliness and isolation are becoming an epidemic in our society. According to the CDC, those two conditions are a serious public health risk for older adults and put them at higher risk of developing dementia and other serious medical conditions.

More than one-third of adults aged 45 and older, the federal agency said, feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered socially isolated.

As we celebrate National Volunteer week this month, Coastline is recognizing the service of more than 125 volunteers who provide support to older adults, who connect with people living in assisted living facilities or nursing homes, and who bring their age, wisdom, and nurturing to schoolchildren.

On April 28, we celebrate our volunteers with a luncheon event to say thank you for the gifts of time and expertise they give, but most especially for their gifts of conversation, connection, and friendship. 

For, at its core, the connection between a volunteer and the person being helped is our most important outcome.

Justin Lees

CEO, Coastline Elderly Services