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Volunteering With Seniors
credits and disclaimer

For any of these activities, you will need written permission from any senior center, retirement home or nonprofit organization you want to work with. That will mean you visiting the office in person and saying what it is you want to do. It may mean you getting a criminal background check and paying for this check yourself. In fact, all volunteers involved in your activities may also have to undergo background checks. Don't let this discourage you; the elderly are a vulnerable population and must be kept safe!

You also will need to seek any funding you need yourself; the senior center, retirement home or nonprofit cannot cover costs, but may be able to accept donations to fund your activities so you do not pay taxes on any funds you gather. If your project is going to cost money and you are going to ask for donations, you will need to have a written budget showing exactly what costs will be, and a relationship with a nonprofit organizations to accept those donations on your behalf so you don't have to pay taxes on those donations.

Ideas for Volunteering With Seniors

  • Recruit, schedule and support volunteers to set up a cybercafe in a retirement home and recruit and train volunteers to help new users connect with information and their loved ones.

  • Set up a Wii system at a retirement home and train the residents on how to use Wii for fitness and to maintain mental agility. A volunteer who will lead the residents in using the Wii is great too!

  • Recruit, schedule and support volunteers to present a series of movement classes using music and art at local senior centers for an entire season (an entire summer, for instance).

  • Develop an awareness program about health issues faced by seniors (diabetes, arthritis, and, yes, HIV/AIDS, prescription drug abuse, etc.). Do 20 minute presentations on each of these issues. Have an expert there ready to answer questions by the seniors.

  • Write, cast, and direct a play, or scenes from a musical to present at a retirement home or senior center. Even just a 30 minute presentation will go over BIG!

  • Get a drama club to come to the center or campus and do a skit or series of scenes from plays. Again, even just 30 minutes will be thoroughly appreciated!

  • Cast and direct a play of seniors themselves, to present in a retirement home, senior center or to the community at large.

  • Get a local band to come perform for free. This can be a marching band, a bluegrass band, a gospel quartet, a chamber orchestra - at my grandmother's retirement home, they have an Elvis impersonator that comes every year and the residents adore him!

  • Arrange for local choirs or bands from schools, community groups or communities of faith to come sing

  • Organize a choir of seniors or a weekly sing-a-long, even for just the summer.

  • Create a workshop to discuss personal safety, such as how to avoid phone, mail or door-to-door scams.

  • Interview seniors to create a community display for a public space (such as your local court house), or a web site or an online video regarding something in your community's history: what the area experienced during the Great Depression, what the community experienced during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, a neighborhood that does not exist anymore, a civic movement that swept the area at one time, etc. Notify all local newspapers, local blogs & local TV about it, as well as your local Department on Aging and your state Department on Aging. Tweet about it, post about it to Facebook, etc., and get these seniors a lot of attention they will absolutely delight in - and help preserve your area's cultural heritage.

  • Video record or audio record seniors singing, and share it on the Internet via a blog, a Facebook page for your project, or a web site for your project. I did this with my grandmother. Recording just one or two songs a week, posting them to the Internet, and then letting all local newspapers, local blogs & local TV know about it, as well as your local Department on Aging and your state Department on Aging, as well as tweeting about it, posting about it to Facebook, etc., would get these seniors a lot of attention they will absolutely delight in - and help preserve your area's cultural heritage.

  • Recruit a group of friends to come to a senior residential home every day and read aloud the newspaper front page stories and obituaries to seniors, or from a religious text (the Bible, the Koran, whatever) or from a book like Chicken Soup for the Soul. The organization that runs the facility can help you identify which seniors would like this and what to read. Obituaries are VERY important to seniors - they want to know who among their friends have died.

  • Recruit a group of friends to escort seniors to the services of the community of faith (church, temple, mosque) they belong to. Doing this even just once a month would be HUGE to seniors.

  • Create a community garden for seniors living in apartments or living in houses with no yard

  • Go to flower shops and ask if you could take any flowers they are going to throw away to a nursing home.

  • Help seniors vote absentee before an election, by bringing them forms and bringing them literature about the issues or candidates (so they don't have to travel to a polling station on election day)

  • Help seniors volunteer themselves. Work with local NGOs to create activities seniors could do as volunteers to help others. These could be activities the seniors go elsewhere to do, or that seniors could do in their own homes, apartments or rooms. Or let seniors know about volunteering for people who sew, knit, or crochet, and for those who want to make greeting cards for ill children or to USA military personnel, and help them participate in these programs. These include:
  • Call your local humane society, ASPCA chapter and animal shelters, and ask if residents could make appropriate bedding for dogs and cats; if so, help seniors know about this opportunity, and then drop off what they prepare at the shelter. There are lots of suggestions online for making dog and cat beds.

  • Organize a day where senior residents who still cook to make appropriate food treats for dogs and cats, and then drop them off at the shelter (you need to call local humane societies, ASPCA chapters and animal shelters FIRST to make sure they will accept such treats). You can find a variety of recipes to make treats for dogs and cats online.

  • Work with a local dog obedience school to create a pet visitation program, where trained, screened dogs and cats are brought by their owners to the home for safe interactions with seniors. Help set up a pet therapy program where, once a week or twice a month, trained volunteers bring pre-screened dogs and cats to the center to interact with patients. You cannot simply call some people and have them bring their pets; you must look into liability insurance, training for the volunteers, a screening program for pets, etc.

  • Hold a spa day, where volunteers give manicures, pedicures, and facials to residents. Make sure volunteers have experience giving manicures, pedicures, and facials and know how to be particularly gentle with seniors.

  • You will probably be surprised at how many seniors are online: my grandmothers are in their 90s, and at their apartment complex for seniors in a small town in Kentucky, there are at least a dozen private Internet networks, as well as an Internet network that any resident can use via the apartment complex management office. If that's the case at the residential center you want to volunteer at (just take a laptop there and look at how many networks you can find, as well as talk to the office staff), then help create a private YahooGroup or GoogleGroup for the residents and their families, with you acting as moderator of the group, reading each message before it gets shared with everyone, to ensure it's not inappropriate. Encourage residents to share what they are doing on a particular day or week, or have done - a concert they will attend, or have attended (and how they felt about it), something they saw on TV, something they would like to organize in a common room, a recipe, etc.

  • If you do find a lot of seniors in a community are online (see previous bullet item), let them know about virtual volunteering / how to be an online volunteer. Be sure to ask regularly who is volunteering online; a local newspaper or television station might be interested!

  • Help the senior center or retirement community set up a Google Calendar or a Facebook page to list all of the events the site is having for residents (blood pressure measurement, hearing aid cleaning, group exercises, religious services, book mobile arrivals, Wii gaming afternoon, group sing-a-longs, etc.). This helps residents to know what's happening, and also helps their families to know what events are going on. Be sure this online calendar is publicized in various ways: via small posters in all common spaces, via handouts to all family members, etc.

  • Become a volunteer with the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, which has affiliates all over the USA. You must be at least 21 and have your own transportation. To find your local program, go to Google and type in Long Term Care Ombudsman Program and the name of your city, or your state. "The most important requirements are compassion, respect for older persons, and common sense. A positive attitude, ability to communicate effectively and available time are important. Ombudsman programs provide training and supervision in developing specific skills."

You can also try looking through the volunteering opportunities that are posted to all the major volunteer matching web sites in the USA for activities related to seniors:

For Canada:

Volunteer Canada

Volunteer Centres in Ontario

Voluntary Organizations Consortium of British Columbia

Le bénévolat au Québec

Idealist/Action Without Borders

If you use my page to create a program or event, please contact me after you have finished the event or program and let me know how it turned out, what program you picked, the address of your blog, etc.

You may also want to review these resources regarding labor laws and volunteering.

If you feel mistreated as a volunteer, here is advice for volunteers on how to complain.

Here is a list of books and other resources regarding Caring for Your Elderly Family Member / Loved One

Also see

© 2010 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.


 The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook,  available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook from Energize, Inc.
or as a paperback from Amazon or as a Kindle book from Amazon.
This book is for both organizations new to virtual volunteering, as well as for organizations already involving online volunteers who want to improve or expand their programs.
The last chapter of the book is especially for online volunteers themselves.

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Credits & Copyright
© 2010-17 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.

Please contact me for permission to reprint, present or distribute these materials.