Volunteerism Pays Dividends to the Volunteer and the Recipient

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After a successful career in Christian nonprofits and pastoring, Richard Parker, age 83, retired and moved to Nashville.

Looking back at that time, he recalls, "I began to feel my age. There was no goal. It was just another day, and I existed ..."

In the latest installment of Nashville Public Television's popular series, "Aging Matters: Healthy Aging," Parker talks about how his life was empty. He felt lost, without purpose or direction.

Parker's personal exploration lead him to the Foster Grandparent Program where, since 2012, he has been volunteering as a tutor and a mentor in the Metropolitan Nashville Public School System working with at-risk children.

Now, he is effusive when he talks about life, his new responsibility and his reason for living.

"I love being with them [the children], talking with them and doing everything I can for them," said Parker. "When I started (the program) it gave me motivation, zest and zip. ... and, out of these young people, I have found myself."

According to Nonprofit and Volunteering Sector Quarterly (2012), volunteering enhances mental health by boosting self-esteem, serving as a buffer against daily stress and alleviating symptoms of depression. Individuals who volunteer see improvements in physical health including a decreased rate of illness as well as a longer lifespan.

A study from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) shows that approximately 62.6 million Americans contributed 7.7 billion hours of community service in 2013. Individuals ages 65 and older comprised 16.9 percent of the volunteers and accumulated 24.4 percent of the volunteer hours.

Richard Parker's volunteerism has made him a role model and champion of others. He is known for motivating and mentoring young individuals including fostering good manners such as opening the doors for others and showing respect. In addition, he has taught hundreds of third- and fourth-grade students - especially the young men - to care about how they look and encouraged them to comport themselves like "gentlemen." He's even taught them the finer skills of tying a necktie.

Just by sharing his interests and life skills, Parker's impact is positively impacting our community.

What is your calling, and how can you give back?

There are so many rich ways to help yourself and help others.

A study posted on nationalservice.gov states that the biggest benefit of volunteering is gained from the satisfaction of being able to serve others. Measurable differences made by volunteers help solve public problems, improve living conditions, strengthen communities and connect people for a common cause.

Volunteers of every age reap rewards from helping others, and plentiful volunteer opportunities exist in communities nationwide. The FiftyForward Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) engages volunteers (age 55+) to impact community needs in the following areas including food security, Meals on Wheels, veterans and education - where seasoned volunteers serve as tutors in the Friends Learning in Pairs Program (FLIP) to help young children.

The need and the opportunity to volunteer exist in every community. A good starting place in Middle Tennessee might be Hands On Nashville, FiftyForward (RSVP) or other nonprofits that speak to your interests and to your heart.

Susan Sizemore is communications director for FiftyForward. Reach her or the agency at www.fiftyforward.org or via e-mail at ssizemore@fiftyforward.org.

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