Giving Back This Holiday Season: The Benefits of Volunteering All Year Long
As we head into the holiday season, our thoughts often turn to helping those less fortunate than ourselves. While dropping a few coins in a Salvation Army red kettle or donating canned goods to a food pantry are very worthy acts, one of the greatest gifts that you can bestow is that of your time.
The Gift: Benefits to the Community
As a volunteer, you offer a lifetime rich with skills and experiences that may be leveraged to contribute to your community in a variety of ways. Tutoring or mentoring a younger generation is one way to contribute, and there are specific organizations for matching seniors with at-risk and disadvantaged youths. For example, in the Foster Grandparent Program you can volunteer at day care centers or schools to provide one-on-one care and attention to children in your local community.
Investing your free time to aid other seniors is another way that you can help, and there are several programs that offer support to elderly community members who need assistance with day-to-day household tasks, transportation, and errands.
Even a hug can be a donation in the right environment, as recent headlines have reported that some hospitals across the nation have instituted cuddling programs that invite vetted volunteers to suit up in sanitized uniforms and hold newborn babies when parents and nurses are unavailable to do so. Since these programs aren’t yet common, your hug can go just as far at a local animal shelter where hands-on volunteers are always welcome to offer cuddles.
The Return: Benefits to You
Volunteerism is beneficial to more than the assistance recipients. Research has shown that volunteering can do just as much good, if not more, for the volunteer. Some of the observed positive effects include a renewed sense of purpose and control over one’s life, reduced rates of depression and isolation, and increased emotional stability. The National Institute on Aging has reported that participating in purposeful engagements like volunteering can lower the risk of chronic health issues and improve longevity.
One study showed that three-fourths of U.S. seniors with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even dementia have reported that staying active through volunteering has helped them successfully manage these conditions.
Volunteering also offers the chance to explore personal interests that may have been brushed aside earlier in life in favor of work or family responsibilities. A love of animals, teaching, or gardening may all be tapped into to improve your community while indulging your personal passions.
If you are interested in gifting your time this holiday season, or anytime throughout the year, there are many ways to find available opportunities. VolunteerMatch.org is a website that matches individuals’ interests with local volunteer positions, or you may contact local libraries, hospitals, or animal shelters directly to learn of their areas of need. However you choose to contribute, you will be giving a gift, to both the recipient and yourself, that is truly priceless.
Helen Pakush: At Home with Life
As a teenager, Helen Pakush was very involved with Ukrainian dancing—which is reflected in the decorative plaques that line the front door frame of her apartment. “I loved that kind of dancing,” she says, “and I still play many of my old LPs.”
Helen was born to Mary and Nicholas Pakush on the ethnically rich and vibrant Lower East Side of New York. Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, and found it a congenial place to raise their seven children. Helen’s father was a waiter on Wall Street, where he learned English and also to read and write. Helen’s mother was raised by her aunt and saved her earnings as a farm laborer to leave the old country. “My mother couldn’t read or write,” recalls Helen, “but she had great common sense. One day, I came home from school, crying because someone called me an ugly name, and she told me to recite ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will not hurt me.’”
After graduating from Washington Irving High School, where she excelled in math, Helen went to work for Equitable Life Insurance Company in its medical insurance lines. “I had wanted to be a nurse,” she said, “but my mother dissuaded me. She said I’d learn more as a secretary and get paid more. I think it’s the other way around these days.”
Helen met her late husband Nicholas, who was of Russian-Ukrainian background, at a picnic at College Point, N.Y. “I didn’t like him, and he didn’t like me. He said I was too skinny.” Still, Nicholas wrote to her when he went abroad to work as a civilian mechanic for the Boeing Company to assist Britain on a special project called Project 19. “He was abroad during the entire war,” Helen says. “He went to England, Africa, and India. That travel, I believe, was equivalent to a college education.”
Nicholas and Helen reconnected after the war and began to date. Nicholas worked in international sales for General Tire, and Helen was attracted by his excellent manners and work ethic. “Back in those days, we really dressed up to go on a date, and Nick loved to go to nice restaurants and Broadway shows.”
The young couple married and soon had three children—Barbara, Audrey, and Nicholas Jr. Nick was transferred to California, which Helen believes was “the best thing that ever happened to me.” After looking at various areas, including Foster City, which Helen laughingly describes as “looking like a sand dune at that time,” they moved to a new housing development on Los Altos Place in San Mateo.
Nick traveled extensively for business, and the children became involved in scouting, dance, and Little League baseball. Helen played “mother hen” to neighborhood children at the family’s backyard swimming pool and later went to work for the San Mateo County Medical Society. “It’s ironic,” she says, “that I never became a nurse but was involved in the medical field during my work life. My daughter Barbara is a nurse today and got her PhD in nursing from UC Davis.”
Helen has lived at Sterling Court for nearly a year and enjoys it. When asked to sum up her view of life, she points to her strong religious faith. “We’re all born with eyes, a nose, ears, and hands to work with,” she comments. “Our ten fingers remind us of the Ten Commandments. All we need to do is look at each finger and ask ourselves if we have followed the commandments that day. It’s so simple, and it has kept me on the right track.”
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