Step up to the plate and go to bat with your skills

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Sometimes it’s a toss up to decide who benefits most when senior citizens volunteer their services. They give a lot when they share years of experience and expertise, but they also gain extremely valuable benefits in their own lives.

There’s a perfect match out there for older people to help others. Agencies that need and use volunteer help from seniors range from health care providers to elementary schools.

Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice is one of the area’s beneficiaries of significant volunteer assistance. Their volunteers go into nursing homes and client homes to provide intermittent service and to the Hospice House in Auburn where they are important companions to patients in the final stages of life.

“They are all good listeners,” said Kathy Baillargeon, assistant volunteer coordinator. A training program equips the volunteer with essential skills.

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In addition to person-to-person help, AHCH gets volunteer assistance for kitchen work, office work, and other duties.

Many grateful recipients of AHCH services for a family member want to give back. One person whose relative was at the Hospice House returned five years later as a volunteer, as do many people who are impressed by the work of this and other similar agencies.

There also are many senior citizens with an interest in theater who will find an eager welcome from local organizations.

Doreen Trainor, executive director of Community Little Theatre in Auburn, said, “Having senior volunteers is a good match for our patrons.”

These older fans of theater often serve as ushers for CLT shows. Trainor said CLT’s average ticket buyer is over 50 and the senior volunteers “are sensitive to our senior patrons’ needs.”

She also emphasized that senior volunteers “are reliable, conscientious and have a great outlook. Whenever you ask, they will come.”

Actually, all the CLT actors as well as the backstage people are volunteers, and many of them have reached senior citizen status. Working on set construction, costumes or community relations are excellent ways for them to be connected and productive for theatrical productions.

CLT has a Senior Readers Theatre that has a touring schedule to area nursing homes and other centers where they perform for appreciative audiences.

A mailing committee is another of CLT’s volunteer opportunities with predominantly senior participation.

There are similar needs for volunteer work suitable for seniors at The Public Theatre, L/A Arts, the Franco-American Heritage Center, and other groups.

People who have retired from a lifetime of work as business owners and managers can be another valuable volunteer resource.

Ralph Tuttle, a long-time counselor with the Lewiston-Auburn chapter of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executive), said the advice provided by these veterans of business can help new businesses avoid many pitfalls. It also means the retirees are challenged to keep learning and stay on top of trends.

It’s not all men, either. Tuttle said five women are among the current SCORE volunteers.

Although a family planning agency may seem to be an unlikely choice for older citizens to give help, they can provide assistance in several ways.

Cindy Brophy, volunteer coordinator for Western Maine Community Action Health Service, points out several opportunities in that agency which has clinic locations in Lewiston, Norway, Farmington and Rumford, as well as a Wilton office. She said two seniors provide five-day coverage as receptionists.

“We are able to save a lot of money and time, thanks to them,” she said.

Senior volunteers might also be helpful in manning a booth at a public information event or other community outreach service.

There are programs that may provide some money to volunteers. That helps when they have to travel or meet other expenses.

Brophy said SCSEP (Senior Community Service Employment Program) is one such option. It’s funded under Title V of the Older Americans Act, and that assistance returns dividends when the volunteers are better able to share their experience and talent.

Some volunteers may enjoy working with children. The Penquis Foster Grandparents Program brings older volunteers into elementary school classrooms where they assist teachers and students.

In Auburn, one woman in her 90s has been doing this five days a week for about 20 years. Another of the volunteers is in her 70s, and there have been some men in the program, as well.

In Lewiston, senior citizen volunteers may choose to be a part of the BookReach Program of readers from the local libraries, and with various mentoring efforts.

Whether a senior citizen is a people-person or prefers to work behind the scenes, there is a lot of need from area agencies – with mutual rewards for older volunteers throughout the area.

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