Stay connected, keep active: Volunteer

Those who donate time and expertise are a vibrant part of keeping things running smoothly.

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Volunteering is a way to stay connected with others especially if you've retired and the structure of workplace routine is gone. Your time and talents are valuable; and you can have fun while helping others.

You can go directly to an agency you like or go to RSVP at the Center at the Park, an organization that matches volunteers with openings. There's plenty of need in the community and seniors have the experience and time to address it.

"We couldn't survive without our senior volunteers," said Gary Lunden, executive director of the Community Center For Youth. According to Lunden, there are a variety of opportunities and the organization utilizes the talents of volunteers of all ages. It's a great way to interact with youth which helps you maintain a youthful perspective.

"We'd love to have more volunteers," he said. "We have opportunities for volunteers in almost every area." Some possibilities include office work, special interest classes, driving or tech support. In the technology area they need help with web pages and computer support.

Volunteering is a great way to share an interest and your accumulated wealth of knowledge. "Our most recent volunteer taught a self defense class. Another volunteer came from a fitness studio in town. Another volunteer came forth to lead an art class," Lunden explained.

The organization offers a variety in opportunities for learning, giving and interactions with others.

"In three hours of programming, they might get involved in three different activities, everything from exercise to creative art," he said.

Because the hours for programs are specific, so are the schedules for the volunteers, those needing specific class and event times. Volunteering in the office offers a more flexible schedule.

Those sentiments are echoed by Don Locati, volunteer coordinator at Fort Walla Walla Museum. Locati added, "We've got great volunteers. Our volunteers just love it out here." Often, volunteers need flexible schedules and hours. According to Locati, the Museum accommodates different scheduling needs as well as physical abilities. "I have some volunteers out here once a week at the same time. Some come out here once a year for a special event like the ice cream social."

Locati said the museum has about 140 active volunteers that participate on a pretty regular basis. "It's a great group of people," he said.

The flexibility is key to success, according to Locati. Volunteers can donate one hour or more, depending on their schedule. "I've worked on many, many committees over the years. People like to come out here, you can donate what you want to donate. At the end of the year you aren't left with ‘you owe us 20 hours.'"

In addition to the flexibility in the hours given, there's often quite a selection of work available to the volunteer. Some jobs are: greeter, museum store, gardening, displays in the exhibit halls and more. Some volunteer positions are seasonal and some are year round.

"Helpline operates primarily with volunteers," said Dan Willms, executive director of the agency. "The volunteers most available during the day, when we are open, is the senior population. We are very dependant on the folks that are retired. They can devote a morning or afternoon shift. ...We always need volunteers, especially in the summer."

Right now Helpline has between 20-25 volunteers in the organization. On any given shift they usually have four to five volunteers in the office. "Some are incredibly committed and are here a lot. Some are here one day a week. Then, some take the summer off. Some of the elderly volunteers are very long termers," Willms said

The volunteers work hard and give generously. But they also receive a great deal in return, often, a sense of connectedness, accomplishment and the knowledge they have helped another person toward a better life. "They say it's very rewarding to help people at a point of crisis in their lives. It's rewarding to be involved, they work directly with people who are getting their power cut off, getting evicted, to see a bad thing turned into a good thing."

The organizations receive huge benefits from those volunteering. But the volunteers reap rewards as well. For those who are retired, it's an opportunity to get out of the house and back into a structured social situation, meet new people, make friends, all while helping others.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at karleneponti@wwub.com.

volunteer contacts:

The Community Center for Youth, 509-526-2571

Fort Walla Walla Museum, 509-525-7703

Helpline, 509-529-3377

RSVP, 509-527-3775

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