In July 1998, the United States Bureau of Census documented in Nassau County 175,962 residents aged 65-84 and 21,170 aged 85 plus. As the population of elderly citizens grows, their needs also continue to grow. One such need lies in the area of nutrition – food. The burden and concern related to obtaining food and other essential errands continues to grow for elderly Nassau residents.
NYSARC Lifestyles/AmeriCorps members are volunteers that are making a difference. These volunteers enable elderly home-bound residents, temporarily disabled, and recently discharged hospital patients to stay independent in their own homes in their local communities by providing food shopping services and assistance with other community based errands to alleviate the physical and emotional burden of these tasks. Since October 1998, these volunteers have been effective in enabling a total of 210 elderly/homebound residents to maintain their independence and dignity in their own homes as a part of their local community.
These 60 Nassau County AHRC Lifestyles/AmeriCorps members are all adults with developmental disabilities. However, they reap the benefits of their volunteer work in increased independence, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Being an AmeriCorps member gives them the unique opportunity to work alongside non-disabled volunteers to give back to the community, rather than being the recipient of services. By helping others, these members are also breaking down stereotypes in the community about people with disabilities by demonstrating their capabilities and dedication.
These AmeriCorps members volunteer their services for at least nine hours per week. They embark in small groups twice weekly to the homes of the elderly/disabled homebound to obtain their lists of community based chores like picking up prescriptions, doing laundry, or returning library books. They complete all of the requested errands and shopping before they return to the home to deliver the goods and put them away. In addition, the volunteers stay and visit with the seniors. The warmth and friendliness shared with the seniors by the volunteers is heartwarming. This visit may be the only company the senior receives.
A vital part of any community is participation by all residents that make up a diverse group. These communities would not be as diverse without the local senior segment. AmeriCorps members with developmental disabilities help secure the ties that bind local communities together. The shared experience enriches the lives of both the Lifestyles/AmeriCorps volunteers and the homebound seniors.