Volunteerism

As discussed in Chapter 7, most older adults spend some of their free time visiting friends and relatives. In addition, some volunteer their services to various public and private organizations. Several million American men and women aged 16 and over perform unpaid volunteer work each year. Volunteer activities provide them with opportunities to utilize and broaden their skills while extending their social contacts. The largest number of volunteers work in churches or other religious organizations, followed in order by schools or other educational institutions, civic or political organizations, hospitals or other health organizations, social or welfare organizations, and sport or recreational organizations (U.S. Department of Labor, 1990). Among the activities of these volunteers are visiting people who are home-bound and directing religious, cultural, and recreational programs for the young and old.

The Older American Volunteer Programs, sponsored by the federal ACTION agency, enable older Americans to perform volunteer services in daycare centers, hospitals, schools, and other public service agencies. Included in these programs are the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), the Foster Grandparent Program, and the Senior Companion Program (SCP).4 Citizens aged 18 years and older can also serve in Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), which sponsors community activities to reduce or eliminate poverty and poverty-related problems by assisting persons with disabilities, the homeless, the jobless, the hungry, and the illiterate or functionally illiterate. Other programs of interest to older volunteers include the National Council on the Aging's Family Friends, the Peace Corps, the Senior Community Service Employment Program, the Senior Environmental Employment

4For information, write to the appropriate program at ACTION, 806 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20525 (Phone: 202-634-9355).

Program, and the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Older adults who are concerned with social and political matters can also find an outlet for these concerns by serving on town councils and planning commissions. Those who become involved in community-service activities often make important contributions to traffic control, land-use regulation, establishing priorities for health and social services, and in other matters of concern to older adults and other age groups.

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