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Volunteer: 'I feared the rocking chair'

Aug. 7, 2013
 
WDH 0810 Why Volunteer
Volunteer nurse Irene LeClair of Wausau takes the blood pressure of Leah Pagel at Island Place apartments in Wausau on July 15. / Dan Young/Gannett Central Wisconsin Media
RSVP School Volunteer Joanne Ver Bockel, tutors fourth-graders in math at Richmond Elementary School in Appleton, Wisconsin on Wednesday April 07, 2010. Post-Crescent photo by Patrick Ferron.

Potential health benefits

Longer lives. Volunteering, at least up to 100 hours a year, led to better health and lower mortality
Improved self-reported health. Volunteering provides a distraction from their own personal or physical concerns.
Better cognitive functioning. Volunteering often involves interacting and coordinating plans and having to execute a plan on time.
Reduced depressive symptoms. Volunteers feel their work matters and might be less prone to depression.
Source: Population Reference Bureau

RSVP School Volunteer Jack Ver Bockel, sings to a kindergarten class at Richmond Elementary School in Appleton, Wisconsin on Wednesday April 07, 2010. Post-Crescent photo by Patrick Ferron.

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Dale Millard said he wasn’t exactly “at the top of the class,” but now the 63-year-old volunteers to be in school, helping elementary schoolchildren at Lincoln Elementary in Wausau.

Millard said he spends several mornings a week reading to children, doing computer games or just spending time to help children who sometimes have physical or mental disabilities. He was matched to the classroom aide position through the United Way of Marathon County’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, for volunteers older than 55.

“I’m grateful to give back, it’s very rewarding,” Millard said, about the chance to help teachers and students who struggle a bit in the classroom.

He also volunteers with The Salvation Army’s emergency response team and veterans who have some mental health needs.

Joining Millard in his school volunteerism, is his wife, Laura, who helps prepare resources such as flashcards and other tools for teachers to use in the classroom.

“They have so much to offer,” said RSVP program director Tony Omernik. He calls senior volunteers a “natural resource” in the community. There are currently 220 active volunteers in the Marathon County program.

And, besides the many ways they give, volunteers get back something in return — a sense of purpose and health.

“I feared the rocking chair,” Millard said.

Ninety-three percent of RSVP volunteers who returned surveys in May said being healthy and active is the main reason why they give their time.

According to a 2007 study on volunteering, the Corporation for National & Community Service found that states with higher volunteer rates are more likely to have lower mortality rates and less incidence of heart disease.

As a volunteer nurse, Irene LeClair, 68, of Wausau, makes sure the people in the RSVP Blood Pressure Screening and Education program are healthy too. She said she has alerted even high school age students about high blood pressure readings.

LeClair said she gets to know some of the people she screens and enjoys the socialization. She used to work as a health care center nurse manager and has spent more than five years performing blood pressure checks as a volunteer, first through the American Red Cross and now through the United Way’s RSVP.

The Portage County RSVP, founded in 1977, is operated by the Aging & Disability Resource Center where director Jeff Jester has a long list of about 700 active volunteers older than 55. In fact, Jester said they have dedicated volunteers in their 80s and even 90s.

In his tenure heading up the program, he said he changed some preconceived notions of his own and witnessed the “youthfulness” of many in the over 70 crowd.

“I’m amazed at what a giving group of people our seniors are,” Jester said. “I hear how appreciative they are of the opportunity and how much they gain from the experience.”

Through the interactions that seniors gain in volunteer work, they get to broaden their social networks and ward off depression and isolation which can be major problems in the elderly population, Jester said.

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