The nonprofit world is a familiar place for Connie Rich, a retired B2B sales and fundraising professional. At one point, Connie even ran her own company assisting women getting back into the workforce after career breaks. Today, her volunteer work extends to her church, community social justice programs and Heart of Ida.
The last of these was started by Connie’s two daughters and is dedicated to helping seniors remain independent as they age, the familial connection making helping out an easy decision. During the pandemic, increased needs of seniors led to more funding and expansion with the opportunity to purchase and distribute tablets that helped people stay connected during isolation. Among other initiatives, the organization provides education on how to use technology, engaging teenagers on summer break to impart their often-extensive knowledge on the topic.
Using her skills from previous volunteer work, Connie spends nearly 50 hours a month building connections with seniors by creating personalized homemade cards with heartfelt messages to send through the mail. Whether it’s a happy birthday, a get –well soon or a simple hello, Connie’s cards brighten the day of all recipients. In the age of email and iPhones, physical mail feels like a gift of friendship. From the newest intern to the most veteran of staff, Connie’s kindness and infectious energy also brings a smile to the face of everyone in the office.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I’ve pretty much always volunteered. When I retired, I began doing more because I like getting involved. And there’s plenty of organizations and people out there who need help. It’s been about three years that I’ve been doing this for Heart of Ida. I started at my church. Once a month after our service, about 10 of us would make handmade cards for the people in the church who were hospitalized or in nursing homes or couldn’t make it to the services. That’s where I was taught, and I just love doing it. I just carried it over to Heart of Ida. I try to do five a day, and I’m there three days a week. It ends up being approximately 60 to 70 cards a month.
Tell us about your volunteer role with Heart of Ida.
I make handmade cards with handwritten notes that go out to all types of clients. A big part of their program for seniors is to keep them connected, because so many of them live on their own and are lonely. A lot of them are isolated; they don’t have any family nearby, or their relatives have passed away. Sometimes it just gets harder as people are older to be able to get out and be social. And so, I send these cards. Each one is completely customized. No two are the same.
Older generations especially like getting mail. They’re used to it, and a lot of them don’t text or email much. So, a handwritten card means a lot to them. A lot of younger people don’t even use cursive writing anymore. I also write thank-you letters to the donors and other people who help out with the organization.
Are there other designated card-writers?
I’m the only one. Occasionally, I’ll ask a volunteer to do things like put stamps on envelopes or something. But really, I do everything else. We have other a few other volunteers along with our staff. We also have interns from Long Beach or Cal State Long Beach. I once asked them to put stamps and return addresses on the envelopes for me, and they put them on the wrong sides. They put the stamp on the left side and the return address on the right side. We got a kick out of that, but the post office did take the cards. We had to teach the interns how to address a letter.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
It’s really rewarding when you get phone calls about how they’re saving the card on their shelf so they can look at it. I love being creative with them, designing and then writing in the message, but hearing back that it really means something is what makes it worthwhile.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve realized how much helping people stay connected means to them. It’s so important. I’ve seen the different ways that Heart of Ida helps older people when they come into the office and tell their stories. You see how much more we can do for more people.
Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.
I’m really busy right now sending cards to different partners, donors and clients just to make sure they know we’re thinking about them over the holidays. When we were able to give people the tablets, I would send a card later saying that we hope they’re enjoying their new device and to let us know if they need help. I include that on every card for clients to remind them that we’re always here for them.
Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?
I think it helps the person who’s doing the help. I’ve always gotten as much out of it as I’ve given. When you help somebody else, especially if you’re even having bad times, it can really lift you up.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
They, too, can find something that they enjoy doing and give it to the world. It makes it better for everybody in your community, the organization and yourself.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Connie? Find local volunteer opportunities.