Becoming 'The Village' for an Aging Population
AmeriCorps Seniors is helping older adults lead fulfilling lives through service
People often use the expression, "It takes a village to raise a child." What if we applied that same thinking to older adults?
The U.S. is going through a major population shift. The country is getting older and remaining healthier longer. The youngest baby boomers are finishing their 50s this year, and roughly one in six Americans are 65 and older. Building a village for our country's older adults — comprising neighbors, community programs and friends who can support older adults as they age — is more critical than ever.
Like many Americans in mid-life, I often think about what my retirement years and beyond will look like. For me, aging in place is important, but so is staying involved with others, continuously learning and remaining engaged mentally and socially. When I'm ready for my "second act," I know that local programs through AmeriCorps Seniors will help me stay connected, either as a volunteer or as the recipient of those volunteer services.
For me, aging in place is important, but so is staying involved with others, continuously learning and remaining engaged mentally and socially.
What is AmeriCorps Seniors?
You may have heard of AmeriCorps, the federal agency for national service and volunteerism that provides opportunities for Americans to address the nation's most pressing challenges, improve lives, better communities and strengthen civic engagement by volunteering locally.
AmeriCorps Seniors is designed for volunteers ages 55+, offering three programs that allow older adults to serve and volunteer in their area. Through AmeriCorps Seniors, 140,000 volunteers log 47 million service hours yearly to help improve their communities.
In response to the aging population, AmeriCorps Seniors organized the Senior Companion Program. This effort matches adult volunteers who are 55+ with older adults or those with disabilities who may need extra help with daily tasks such as shopping, paying bills or driving to appointments. Volunteers may also provide respite support for family caregivers.
Volunteers can serve up to 20 hours per week in this program and often develop strong friendships with their match.
The Benefits of Being a Senior Companion
Many of our AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers find that the companionship benefits both parties and supports aging in place.
"You keep busy, you're doing something productive, and most of all, it's really nice to have the companionship."
"When you help others and do for others, you enrich your life," says Carmen, a California-based Senior Companion Program volunteer who spends each week helping older adults live happier, more self-sufficient lives through AgingNext. Her thinking is what drives a lot of our AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers. The Senior Companion Program offers volunteers a win-win: a way to use their extra time and compassion for good, while staying engaged in their community.
"Helping other people is one of those positive things. We're making the world a better place," says Vivian, a Senior Companion Program volunteer based in Colorado. Over the last few years, she's formed a friendship with Bernice, her match.
"For me, the program is really valuable. You keep busy, you're doing something productive, and most of all, it's really nice to have the companionship. Bernice has become like a family member," she says.
Staying Physically and Mentally Well
Through AmeriCorps Seniors programs, volunteers and recipients can mitigate anxiety, depression and physical ailments.
Earlier this year, the Surgeon General released a report on the epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the United States. Older adults were cited as the most susceptible to the negative physical and mental health impacts of loneliness. The report even stated that the lack of social connection can increase risk of dementia by up to 50%.
"Life is a journey. We all have a purpose. Define your gifts and talents and use them to serve."
A study by AmeriCorps found that 84% of volunteers report stable or improving health after one year of service, and 88% of volunteers who described a lack of companionship reported decreased feelings of isolation after two years of service.
Above all, volunteering establishes a sense of purpose. As we age, careers come and go, children may leave the "nest" and some daily commitments dwindle. But our later years present a renewed opportunity to dive into new friendships, hobbies and activities. As Senior Companion Program volunteer Carmen says, "Life is a journey. We all have a purpose. Define your gifts and talents and use them to serve."
Become Your Community's Solution
AmeriCorps Seniors offers an accessible solution to the challenge of keeping older adults engaged and aging in place with dignity. Let this be your moment to redefine your retirement and help older adults live more fulfilled and independent lives. In addition to the Senior Companion Program, AmeriCorps Seniors offers two other programs to help you "be the village" in your community if you're 55+.
The Foster Grandparent Program matches volunteers with area youth needing tutoring, guidance and the support of a caring adult. You may find yourself helping with homework, caring for premature infants or mentoring a class of students.
AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP is another program designed to meet critical community needs. Volunteers may help with opportunities aligned with their interests and skills like disaster relief, delivering meals, building homes or local clean-up efforts.
We're all on the path of aging. For me, I look forward to a meaningful second act driven by service.
To find an AmeriCorps Seniors opportunity near you, check out our Pathfinder tool.