Raised in Tulsa, 66-year-old Sandy Donahue is the daughter of two teachers who made helping others an important part of their lives. Her parents volunteered at the March of Dimes, Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. When Donahue talks about her parents, she does so with pride, so it only makes sense that she, too, would make giving back to her community a priority.
Donahue is a volunteer for The Senior Source, a United Way partner agency that has worked to improve the quality of life for older adults in the Dallas area since 1961. Through the agency’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), she regularly talks to groups about the services offered by the Homeland Security Initiative.
In the aftermath of 9-11, the program’s premise has been to replace fear with knowledge. Volunteer seniors like Donahue talk to people about what steps they can take in an emergency situation, before first-team responders – police, fire emergency and medical teams – arrive at the scene. She talks about simple things, such as what to do when the power goes out or gas lines shut down at home.
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t know what to do,” says Donahue, a retired English teacher.
What Donahue is doing is important work. Not only is she helping others – she’s helping herself, says Dr. James Ikemba, associate medical director at Baylor Fair Park Center, who adds that senior citizens profit both physically and psychologically by helping others.
“Seniors get out of the house by volunteering,” he says. “I’m for anything that increases activity, builds up strength and is great for the muscles, especially when it’s also good for the heart.”
And there are a variety of ways in which seniors can volunteer. Organizations like The Senior Source and The Volunteer Center or North Texas specialize in placing people in the volunteer positions that fit them best – whether it be acting as a “grandparent” to at-need kids, serving as a mentor for elementary school students, or delivering for Meals on Wheels.
Other volunteer opportunities exist with The Shepherd Centers of Dallas, which has two locations in North Dallas and Lakewood. Programs include the Buddy System, where seniors are paired up to call each other regularly and make sure the other is alive and well, and the Caring Wheels program, in which seniors drive other mature adults, who don’t have a means of transportation or who are unable to drive any longer, on errands.
Through her position as publicity chairman for The Shepherd Center of North Dallas, Estelle Baron helps recruit new senior volunteers. In her position, she’s in contact with widowers who have difficulty with their sudden aloneness. Volunteering, she adds, can make going home to an empty house easier, particularly because it can form lasting friendships.
“You wouldn’t believe how much fun we have,” she says of the seniors involved in the volunteer programs.
And if fun and companionship weren’t motivation enough to do it, there’s another reason seniors should consider volunteering, Donahue says.
“There’s a lot of us seniors can give back,” she says. “After all, we’ve been through a lot.”