Eighty-Seven-Year Old Retiree Provides Assistance to New Yorkers in Need as a Public Benefits Counselor

Daily Point of Light # 7811 May 14, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Barbara Daye. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

After spending 12 years as a volunteer teaching GED and College preparation classes, 87-year-old retiree Barbara Daye’s love of learning led her to Legal Hand Jamaica, a community resource center where trained non-lawyer community volunteers provide assistance, legal information, resources and referrals to people who need them. In January 2024, Daye began volunteering as a public benefits counselor after taking a 42-hour RSVP Advocacy, Counseling and Entitlement Services (ACES) Project training. She learned about the 14 highly complex public benefit programs in New York and strengthened her computer skills needed to assist low-income New Yorkers with online applications.

Prior to Daye’s volunteering at Legal Hand, she was a tutor at 1199 Adult Learning Center in Brooklyn for more than 11 years and even tutored via Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her passion to help others has made a genuine impact in her Jamaica, New York, community and beyond. Now she’s on a mission to get others to see the goodness that volunteering can bring to their lives, too.

After being trained in the 14 complex public benefit programs in New York, Barbara Daye assists low-income New Yorkers with online applications and more with Legal Hand Jamaica.

What inspires you to volunteer?

Volunteering is something I’ve always been interested in and involved in. I’ve been retired now for more than 20 years, but I volunteered when I was working too. To me, it allowed me to help somebody else and it gave me a sense of accomplishment other than substance related to a paid job. It really has been a way of life for me.

Tell us about your volunteer role with Legal Hand Jamaica.

Originally I was doing tutoring for adults and helping them get their GED, go through college or advance in whatever work they were doing. After that agency closed the site, it was time for me to move on and that’s when I found the RSVP Advocacy, Counseling and Entitlement Services (ACES) Project training. I found that it was a program where I could be trained in public benefits, then I’d be placed as a site. That’s how I got connected to Legal Hand Jamaica this year.

Even though I was trained in public benefits, it’s not the only thing I do at Legal Hand Jamaica because we get a lot of other issues too. We help people get public benefits like cash assistance, SNAP, legal referrals and more. Like completing applications, dealing with immigration issues, housing eviction or people who are trying to find affordable housing. It’s a mix and we try to help people with all of it at no cost. I spend six hours volunteering on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding part is that feeling of helping somebody. That comes from some of the people that I help because they will say that, you know, I appreciate what you did for me. I appreciate you writing that letter for me. Another thing is it can kind of inspire somebody else. I tried to recruit other people to volunteer, especially at church.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

I’ve learned a couple of things, like you don’t have to have specialized skills, I think you can just have a heart for people and a willingness to learn; to take the steps you need in order to help someone else. And I’ve also learned that when you work with someone, they like to know that you are interested in their issue. Youv’ve got to show compassion. There’s a large number of people who are not familiar with the technology to fill out applications online, so we have to be patient and actually do things for people who cannot do things for themselves.

Do you have any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Some advice I have is that I know some people think that they don’t know how to volunteer. They have to have certain skills or an education, a certain nationality or be able to speak certain languages. You don’t have to have that at most of the places where you volunteer, and we’ll train you. You can ask questions and learn what you have to do. Maybe you can only do two or three hours a week, and that’s still great. Use that time to help somebody else. It’s just so fulfilling to know that you’ve helped somebody fill out an application that they needed help on. It’s those little rewarding things that make you feel good, to make somebody else feel good.

Do you have a favorite memory from volunteering with Legal Hand Jamaica?

One gentleman came in and his request was that he was moving to Egypt. He wanted to be able to get his Social Security benefits. This issue was brand new to me, and I did some research. I found out what I had to do. After that, I told him everything was okay; we’ve completed it, and he will be getting an email on what to do. He was so happy he had gotten those benefits. He asked me how much he owed me, and I told him that it was actually free. Then, he went next door and got me a chicken dinner. It was amazing; he just wanted to share his appreciation.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

We just had a meeting where our manager told us that the legal assistant organization that we refer people to will have a van at our location and will be able to help people immediately with any assistance they need, like housing, eviction, family issues or whatever someone would need. They’re going to offer 45 minutes of free consultation.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Barbara? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Madi Donham