I view helping others as a way to help myself, meaning I personally benefit from the reward of helping others. I have always tried to choose jobs that allowed me this benefit, thus getting paid twice, once in the form of a paycheck, and another in the form of personal satisfaction. Others, particularly retired people, fill the latter with volunteer time. Helping seniors can be one of the most rewarding ways to give your time. Why? Because, based on my experience, seniors 1) need the help due to the physical and mental limitations that come with age, 2) deserve the help, having worked hard for many years, serving their country, others, etc., and 3) appreciate the help. I’ve worked with other population groups, and seniors, without question, appreciate your efforts more than others (except maybe their family and caregivers).
If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to care for an elder. This is the method of thinking we must adopt if we’re to meet the demands of our aging population. The demographics just are not there to support our present, expensive system of care when there will be roughly 2 workers for every 1 person receiving Social Security. We, as a society, must do our best to help delay or avoid long-term institutional care for as long as possible. I’ve met and worked with many elders that were either able to stay at home much longer thanks to the care of family, neighbors, and church members, or could have stayed at home much longer if a volunteer support system was in place.
I understand that at-risk children need help, as do animal shelters, soup kitchens, and others. There are so many opportunities for volunteers that agencies are competing with each other to attract them, to the point where some offer stipends. You can select your interest, but recognize the unique reward that comes with helping elders. Many have never asked for help before; many won’t ask for help now. By coming into their lives in a helpful manner you can gain a friend, you will hear their unique past, their experiences with historical events we’ve only read about in books, and you will see them smile. These things can’t be measured in time or dollars. What’s more, you’ll be helping to create a culture that supports our elders, and if you’re not an elder, you will be.
The greatest benefit I’ve had helping elders, particularly with those in their final days, is the realization of our own mortality, that life does in fact come to an end, that my youth is temporary. Some have told me this thinking is morbid, but I think it’s just the opposite. Without the realization that my existence is limited, how can I truly experience and enjoy the days at hand? I don’t want to be the elder in my final days that thinks, “Gee, I should have smelled more flowers.” Helping the aged helps remind me that I need to live life â€“ today, that I need to stop, breathe, and smell the flowers. Where else can I get that benefit?