Going Strong: A Special Section for Older Adults

For seniors, volunteer opportunities abound in Greater Lansing


The ‘ol double nickel, a nickname from back in the day for 55, is neither just a speed limit nor a number. 

For anyone fortunate to retire at age 55, bidding farewell to a career can mean a rewarding second act as a volunteer. 

Anyone looking for volunteer opportunities in mid-Michigan will find their perfect spot, whether it’s delivering meals, providing customer service or something entirely unique. 

Among volunteer programs in Greater Lansing, RSVP — which spans Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties — has a particularly wide reach. 

RSVP is short for Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, and its executive director, Carol Wood, spoke in glowing terms of the program and what it’s been able to accomplish. 

Participants in the Foster Grandparent program send volunteers into schools and daycare centers to work with students who need help or guidance with academic work or other needs. It’s a rewarding way to give back. 

“You are able to get out of your home, and you have a meaningful opportunity to go out there and help others,” said Wood, who is also the longest-serving Lansing City Council member. 

In a recent survey of educators working with the program, Wood said all the teachers had their own stories about their foster grandparents, whether it was how excited the children were when their grandparents arrived or how some teachers had a troubled student only that person could reach. 

It’s common, Wood said, to see improvement in both academics and social skills at the end of the school year among program participants. The program is especially important to students who might have a challenging home life. 

Students are paired with foster grandparents “based on what the need is for that child in the classroom,” Wood said. Nor are the details of their homelife a factor. 

And foster grandparents don’t have to retire after a certain age — they are welcome for as long as they want, including one foster grandparent who is still actively volunteering as a youthful-minded 95-year-old who gets around with the help of a walker. 

“The kids love her,” Wood said. “In the classroom, the kids make room for her so she can get around with her walker. They just think the world of her.” 

For their part, the foster grandparent gets the joy of interacting with “grandchildren,” substitutes for the ones who might be miles away.  

In addition, the social interaction has both physical and emotional benefits. The pandemic saw a decline in volunteering. Wood said many of their regulars’ health concerns kept them close to home or having to stay home made things worse. 

Those in the Senior Companion Program work directly with residents in nursing care facilities. 

“They could be going in and just sitting down and taking with someone in their room. It could be playing cards with them, it could be reading with them, it could be working on a puzzle with them,” Wood said. 

Perhaps what that patient needs is a little exercise. 

“It could be motivating them to get up and walk the hall,” Wood said. 

Volunteers usually can spend time with six to 10 clients daily, with the objective of letting residents know “there is someone who cares for them,” Wood said. 

One of the volunteers in that program is an 85-year-old with mobility issues, yet “she loves to push the wheelchair of her clients down to have their hair done at the (salon) in the facility,” Wood said. 

Seniors in need of services and volunteers in need of an outlet may also look to Tri-County Office on Aging for opportunities both familiar and new. 

The familiar is Meals on Wheels, the service which delivers hot food to shut-ins and which pre-dates the founding of TCOA by 20 years. 

Casey Cooper, TCOA’s fundraising and volunteer specialist, said the agency needs volunteers for the resumption of daily hot meal deliveries. At the height of the pandemic, volunteers were dropping off a week’s worth of frozen meals at one time — which meant the shut-in was also only getting that human contact once a week. 

“By connecting them to nutritious meals and a check-in from the friendly volunteers who deliver them,” Cooper said, “they are able to age in place in their own homes and communities.” 

The commitment for drivers can be as little as an hour a week, and if that’s all you can give, that’s all right. 

Then there is the unexpected, like the Kinship Care Respite program through TCOA, which offers a break for seniors raising a minor child — a grandchild, for instance. 

“The purpose is to give the caregiver respite so they have some time to focus on their own needs,” Cooper said. 

Some examples of things the program may cover, Cooper said, would include summer camp tuition, sports, extracurricular activities, or technology like a tablet.  

Still confused about which Medicare plan to choose? Shopping for your own insurance is tough no matter your age, and still more TCOA volunteers help seniors sort through the maze of plans — not to mention wading through the prescription supplements! It’s recommended that patients review their coverage annually, preferably before the open enrollment period each fall. 

Another organization providing both volunteer opportunities and help for seniors in mid-Michigan is Capital Area Community Services. The organization has offices in each of the three counties, plus one each for rural Ingham and Shiawassee counties. 

Pauline Baert, Clinton County center coordinator/senior coordinator, said her offices provide information and assistance to clients, with the help of a TCOA grant. 

“We’re hooking them up with resources in the community and connecting them with other agencies,” Baert said. 

Seniors can get help with food on a monthly basis, and Medicare counseling is available “so we can educate them” on their Medicare options. 

It usually isn’t just one thing the client needs either. 

“(A person) might come in for food, and then we might find out they never signed up for a homestead property tax credit. Seniors gets a decent amount of rebate on that,” Baert said. 

“As we’re doing our assessment, we can uncover some other things they haven’t done. We really try to assess what’s going on and get them all the services they’re eligible for”

seniors, volunteer, RVSP


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