By Devon Gallivan

Cape Cod is a unique community that is close-knit due to its secluded geographic nature and its unusually high demographic makeup of seniors. These factors have created a perfect formula for generating a supportive and powerful volunteer workforce. According to the Corporation of National and Community Service, older adults are the most likely group to serve 100 or more hours per year as volunteers. Based on an interview with the Cape and Islands United Way, if the Cape’s 16,000 volunteers were actual employees, their 2016 payroll would be well over $22M. And this number was calculated by surveying only a portion of the nonprofit organizations on Cape Cod.

The opportunities for volunteering are endless and one of the best ways to review all the options is by contacting Cape Cod Volunteers, a service of the Cape and Islands United Way.

With a visit to their easy-to-navigate website, a phone call, or in-person visit, seniors are quickly shown the many ways they can use their skill set from a past career or perhaps pursue a new hobby or passion they now have time to explore. Barbara Milligan, Cape and Islands United Way President/CEO, indicated that people can help with a range of positions at different organizations, from administrative work to walking horses to helping with local community events. And volunteer efforts do not always take place on site at organizations, as some tasks can be performed directly from home, allowing homebound seniors to continue participating in supporting their communities.

Frank Hynes, a resident of Thirwood Place and senior volunteer at The Family Pantry of Cape Cod, is motivated to do such great work not only by his wife − who has long been active as a local volunteer − but also by the gratification he receives from his work stocking shelves, sorting food, and unloading trucks to help feed the entire Cape community. Frank’s time volunteering gives him a purpose and balance while allowing him plenty of time to continue pursuing his retirement interests of golfing and spending time with family.

Eddie Howard, a senior volunteer for Elder Services and Meals on Wheels, is inspired by the universal principle of “what goes around, comes around.” He also notes it gets him out of the house, gives him something to do, and he knows he is doing valuable, important work by providing other seniors with food to eat and a visit as he makes his deliveries.

The lifetime of experience offered by each senior has the power to provide many organizations with a huge panel of candidates from which to choose the perfect fit for their organization. The other side to this relationship is what volunteering efforts can do for older adults. Volunteerism helps prevent isolation and depression, giving seniors a true sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Research also shows that volunteering has been found to improve mental health and help prevent Alzheimer’s.

The National Institute on Aging reported that participating in meaningful and productive activities (like volunteering) decreases health problems including dementia and promotes longevity.

Volunteering also gives people a feeling of support. In most cases, multiple generations no longer live under the same roof as they have in the past. Families are spread across the country and work commitments are devouring a majority of daily time. By dedicating time to an organization and bonding with like-minded volunteers and staff, seniors are surrounded by a unique family dynamic, created by supporting others in the community, caring for animals or participating in ongoing efforts with a shared purpose.

There are many organizations on the Cape such as A Baby Center in Hyannis who are looking for volunteers of all ages. A Baby Center, whose mission is to supplement critical basic needs that ensure the good health and safety of babies in need, only employs three full-time employees, including Director Robin Hayward. Robin is very proud of her 50 volunteers who assist at the organization throughout the year. She also expresses the need for more volunteers outside of their headquarters. They have needs for diaper drives, reconditioned strollers, and help with their newest program, Baby Box University. Also applauding the hard work of her strong team of volunteers is Mary Sarah Fairweather, Director of the Centerville MSPCA, who proudly boasts that her regular volunteers cover the workload of three fulltime employees assisting with animal care, socialization, transportation, and administration. Other ways to help with her organization include assisting with events, camps, and fundraising, as well as opportunities to foster animals.

Regardless of the number of hours volunteered each week or where they choose to donate their time, one thing is quite clear: seniors make an enormous difference and their maturity, availability, skills, loyalty, and dedication are key to strengthening our community. Volunteering by our super seniors creates a safer, more attractive, and healthier Cape Cod and allows members of the community to connect as a mutual benefit. In the words of one enthusiastic senior volunteer, “Just get out there and do something!”

Devon Gallivan is a Sales & Marketing Specialist at Thirwood Place. She can be reached at dgallivan@thirwoodplace.com or (508) 398-8006.