We all at some point in our lives (if not throughout the entirety of our life) want to make a difference in some way, shape, or form. Whether it’s making a difference in our community, in our neighborhood, at work, a local organization, or your house of worship, donating your precious time for the betterment of someone or something else is one of the selfless things one can do. Human beings have been dedicating their time to help others for hundreds of years now, with acts of volunteering traceable in Britain back to medieval times! The actual term “to volunteer” was supposedly first used in direct connection to “offering oneself for military service” and is derived from the French word, volontaire. Now, to volunteer means offering one’s skills, labor, or resources to another person or group without any reward in return, a true act of selflessness.
However, in our fast-paced world, sometimes these acts of selflessness can be put on the back burner, especially since the average retirement age for many older adults keeps getting pushed back making it harder to balance working and volunteering all at the same time. Many working adults tend to find volunteer opportunities that are flexible and service can be completed on their own schedule. In the Blair County region, CONTACT Altoona is known for its flexible and convenient volunteer opportunities, with many of its volunteers working from home and on their own schedules.
“Most of our volunteers work from home, some work from our Helpline Room,” Nicole Germaux, Executive Director of CONTACT Altoona, said. “They do not commit to a regular schedule. They simply sign up for a shift when they want, as many as they want. Some volunteers do as little as two four hour shifts per month, a total of eight hours per month; however, our volunteers can do as many shifts as they would like.”
Throughout 2020, many companies and organizations have dealt with disruptions and unexpected changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many volunteer operations were put on hold to follow social distancing and other guidelines. With CONTACT Altoona’s flexibility, their operations were not disrupted.
“Our volunteers did not miss a beat!” shared Nicole. “Not much changed for many of our volunteers since they already were working from home. We were able to not only serve our regular number of clients but take on the additional calls that we received relating to fears of COVID-19 and the response to COVID-19. Our volunteers were able to be there for their community when the community needed them most.”
Not only do volunteers with CONTACT Altoona reap the benefits of flexible scheduling and the convenience of working from home, those who volunteer in general experience a long list of benefits throughout their volunteering career. The immediate benefit and effect on life as a volunteer is the overall rewarding experience to know you’ve helped someone or something in your community. In general, volunteering also helps to ease stress and anxiety, as you are putting your own thoughts and stressors in the back of your mind as you help someone or something else. Oftentimes, volunteer experiences can help put your own worries into a different perspective, which can also help ease stress and anxieties surrounding the situation.
Volunteering also allows individuals to connect with others. Sometimes, especially retired older adults, feel lonely or isolated after leaving their careers. Becoming a part of a volunteer organization in your community is one of the best ways to make new friends. Committing to a shared activity together can really kick start any new relationships or strengthen already existing relationships and volunteering lets you do just that! It also allows you to connect with people who you might not normally connect with: those of different age groups, ethnicities, or social groups. This can help you establish multi-generational relationships, which can open your mind to new life perspectives and experiences that may be different than your own.
With CONTACT Altoona’s Helpline and Reassurance Program, volunteers will make and take phone calls to those in need to help them navigate life’s challenges or offer welcomed reminders of medication or safety checks.
“Our volunteers are trained to provide resources and information for people in need of human services,” shared Heidi Rexford, President of the Board at CONTACT Altoona. “We provide a listening ear for people who need to talk. We also check in with people to remind them to take their medications and make sure they are okay through our Reassurance Program.”
Although this can change a volunteer’s life perspective, it can be a true challenge to leave someone else’s challenges at the doorstep when you are done volunteering.
“When interacting with callers, you truly get to know them and the struggles they face,” explained Nicole. “As an employee or volunteer, you may not have experienced challenges like our callers have faced. For some volunteers, this changes their life perspective and creates an overwhelming feeling of empathy.”
Setting boundaries within yourself and your organization are important to maintain a good balance and healthy relationship with your responsibilities. When volunteering with others who may be facing challenging life changes, it can be difficult to not worry and possibly get too involved with the situation. CONTACT Altoona volunteers receive training before starting their position and are trained in multiple areas, one being on how to set boundaries but still providing support to the person in need.
When volunteering, one may think of the emotional benefits: feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment. However, a 1999 study concluded that those who volunteer at two or more organizations had a 63% lower mortality rate than non-volunteers. A more recent study completed by Carnegie Mellon University found that adults over 50 who volunteered regularly were less likely to develop hypertension (high blood pressure) compared to non-volunteers.
Volunteering, depending on the organization, can help an individual remain active and get their body moving, depending on the event or activity you are volunteering for. Many non-profits in Blair County and membership groups like Cove Cause for Cancer, Healthy Blair County Coalition, Morrisons Cove Rotary Club and the Lung Disease Foundation of Central PA host several events throughout the year that can serve as great opportunities for volunteering as well as being active!
After learning about some of the benefits of volunteering, where does one get started?
First, take stock of some personal likes and dislikes: enjoy working with people, or working behind the scenes? Enjoy speaking on the phone or communicating by email or text message better? Would it be enjoyable volunteering for a cause that’s a passion or personally connected? These are all great questions to ask when determining what volunteer organization to join.
“Many of our volunteers at CONTACT Altoona enjoy being on the phone, are retired, and have family members who have needs like the needs of our callers, making it more relatable,” Nicole explained. “Some of our volunteers enjoy being able to volunteer without it being a social group, and others that do enjoy the socialization aspect of volunteering have made friends with other volunteers and attend our organization’s events together.”
Determining which volunteer organization to join based on wants, likes, and needs will be imperative to continued happiness and success as a volunteer. Many organizations have monthly or weekly meetings or several events throughout the year that can be attended to see if the fit is right for the organization. If being a volunteer isn’t exactly the right fit, still participating or donating to the organization is still very helpful and can give one a sense of fulfillment, as many volunteer organizations are non-profit organizations that use the much-needed donations solely to maintain operations.
“As a non-profit, we face the same challenge many other non-profits face: funding,” Nicole shared. “Contracts and grants now require more for less. Fundraising has become a challenge which is now amplified with the recent pandemic and cancellations of a lot of fundraising events and opportunities.”
Volunteering can truly change one’s life for the better in many different ways. It can serve as a great opportunity for those who want to make a difference in their community. Supporting volunteer organizations, whether directly volunteering or donating to their cause, is very important to its success and goal of helping those in need. CONTACT Altoona is always accepting new volunteers and donations. To volunteer, call the Administration Office at (814) 946-0531 and leave a voicemail, or sign up on the website at www.contactaltoona.com. To donate, one can mail a check to 2729 8th Avenue, Altoona, PA 16602, or visit the website and click the “Donate Now” button.
Now… let’s get out there and change the world!
CONTACT Altoona is a person-centered telephone helpline whose mission is to respond to the needs of callers by active, reflective listening and, when appropriate, to make referrals to needed services.
“CONTACT Altoona has been a listening ear for close to 40 years,” said Heidi Rexford, President of the Board. “We provide valuable information, referral services, and will check-in daily with people who live alone and need reassurance.”
Through the telephone helpline service staffed 365 days a year by trained volunteers, CONTACT Altoona provides listening services, reassurance calls, crisis intervention, and information and referrals services and to assist those of all ages to resolve their own problems and develop their inner resources.
The CONTACT Altoona Reassurance Program meets the needs of those living alone, aged, ill, lonely, or living with a disability. Calls can be a gentle “good morning,” a friendly reminder to take medications, or a welcomed safety check.
The volunteers that staff CONTACT Altoona’s Reassurance and Helpline Programs are of all ages, education level and skills that successfully completed the free required training to become a volunteer. They enjoy the flexibility of working from home and choosing their own schedule, working at least 8 hours per month, along with feelings of fulfillment from assisting those who need help the most.
“We ask that every volunteer do a minimum of two 4 hour shifts per month, for a total of 8 hours per month,” said Nicole Germaux, Executive Director of CONTACT Altoona. “Volunteers also receive extensive training in active listening and communication; good contact techniques; mental illness, including symptoms and treatment; boundary setting and providing support; addiction and substance abuse; self-care and community resources; and much more.”