Humane societies and other nonprofit animal rescue and welfare organizations are among the many volunteer opportunities for Baby Boomers in Virginia and North Carolina. Studies show that people who volunteer to help such groups are generally healthier and live longer than those who do not.

Archived Story

Time to give

Published 9:41pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011

By Stephen Cowles

There are plenty of ways — and reasons — to volunteer

So you’ve crested the hill, and you’ve officially got more years behind you than ahead, actuarially speaking. You take care of yourself, eat right, exercise regularly and keep your mind active. Is there anything else you can do to improve your health and contribute to improved quality of life?

Try this: Volunteer.

Whether you’re still involved in a career or recently retired, there are opportunities to give of yourself to your respective community. And that means not just giving money, but also giving your time and talents.

A 2007 study by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that volunteering is particularly beneficial to the health of older adults and those serving 100 hours annually.

One study found that volunteering led to lower rates of depression in individuals 65 and older. One found that heart attack survivors who subsequently volunteered reported less despair and depression, two factors that that have been linked to mortality in post-coronary artery disease patients. And a survey of data found that those older than 70 who volunteer 100 hours a year lived longer and had fewer self-reported health problems.

Volunteering also helps communities and the people who live in them. And the possibilities are almost endless.

Relay for Life

One favorite volunteer opportunity around Ahoskie, N.C., is the Relay For Life of Hertford-Gates Counties, according to Jerry Castelloe of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce.

LuAnn Joyner, luminaria captain, said the cancer fundraiser and awareness campaign is “for Boomers and everything in between. It’s just an eclectic mix of people.”

While you might think that the economy has put a serious dent in giving, Joyner said, “Remarkably for 2010, which I think has been the worst year for the economy, we were most successful monetarily. The luminaria goal last year was $27,000, and we took in $33,000 in luminarias.”

Luminarias are candle-lit bags honoring loved ones who have fought cancer and have won the battle so far, or dedicated to those who succumbed to the disease.

This year’s Relay For Life of Hertford-Gates Counties was held April 15 at Chowan University.

Most communities around the region have their own versions of the fundraising event. To learn more, visit www.main.acsevents.org.

Animal welfare organizations

One of Joyner’s own favorite volunteer opportunities is PAWS, Protecting Animals Worth Saving, a Hertford County, N.C., organization that shelters and finds homes for stray animals.

“Two or three ladies about five or years ago saw the need for an animal shelter in a better place,” Joyner said. “They found a site, spruced it up and got additional housing. They’ve done a spectacular job. Fabulous.”

There are actually two women who started PAWS of Hertford County — Betty Liverman and JoAnn Jones. They started out together with an idea in November 2005.

“There was a need,” said Jones. “JoAnn and I would try to save animals.”

In May 2006, PAWS of Hertford County became incorporated with the state of North Carolina, said Jones.

“We got the use of an old shelter,” said Liverman. “(We) put in new kennels and added on.”

“We got an adoption program going, worked on the shelter to make it a better environment with a low-cost spay and neuter program,” Jones added.

“We work very hard to save these animals,” said Liverman. “Since August 2006, we’ve saved over 4,500 animals. We’re making it work.” Those animals have been placed or adopted out.

There are about 40 members in PAWS, said Liverman. “We have a core group of 12 that work constantly,” noted Jones.

PAWS will also go to schools to educate students about the group.

Liverman said she appreciates all the volunteers who have donated their time and money.

For more information, email Pawsofhertfordcounty@yahoo.com, or call 252-358-7861.

Liverman recommended the Roanoke-Chowan Humane Society as also being worthy of people’s energies.

“They’re trying really hard,” she said.

She also suggested volunteering with an equine rescue organization.

In Virginia, the Suffolk Humane Society plays a similar role in the lives of stray and abandoned animals, working hand-in-hand with the city’s animal control officers to limit the number of cats and dogs that must be euthanized.

Suffolk Humane is constantly in search of volunteers to help with adoption events and to work in the organization’s office. Also, the group holds an annual fundraiser and mega-adoption event, the Suffolk Mutt Strut, for which it seeks volunteers and contributions all year long.

To learn more about the Suffolk Humane Society, visit www.suffolkhumanesociety.com.

Boys and Girls Clubs

Boys and Girls Clubs provide a great opportunity for youngsters to come into contact with people they can look to as mentors and role models, and many of those adults are volunteers.

In Franklin, Va., the clubs are an important part of the community’s effort to raise responsible, law-abiding youth.

“There’s a number of kids at S.P. Morton Elementary that need our intervention to keep on the straight and narrow so that they can be successful,” said Anne Bryant of the United Way in Franklin. “It’s a good cause with a good unit director. There are good kids who could use a little help by mentoring or reading, as well as arts and crafts or photography.”

Suffolk has its own Boys and Girls Clubs, which meet at John F. Kennedy Middle School and are always on the lookout for volunteers to work with the children or to help with fundraising.

To learn more about how to get involved in these clubs, visit www.bgca.org and search for a community near you.

Other opportunities

Habitat for Humanity, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and even public schools are all in need of responsible adults with a couple hours a week to give. All have their own web pages where you can learn how to get involved.

Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia serves the area’s growing population of older adults.

John Skirven, CEO, said, “We have several volunteer opportunities for active adults or at-home support. We’re also looking for volunteers to visit nursing homes on a regular basis. Training is ongoing.”

And the Retired Senior Volunteer Program for people 55 and older, he said, lists 150 volunteer opportunities for older adults — in police departments, at schools, with nonprofit organizations or even one-on-one with children who need mentors.

Skirven also recommended Elder Care Locator. Call 1-800-677-1116 or visit www.eldercare.gov to find opportunities around the nation.

For all but the frailest among us, there’s some way for you to help out in your community. The good news is that while you’re helping someone else, you’ll be helping yourself in the process.

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