Archive for May, 2011

We Can’t Do It Alone

When Volunteers of America was founded 115 years ago, the term “volunteer” had a very different meaning than it does today. Our name related back to our historical ties to the Salvation Army and their pseudo-military terminology. We envisioned ourselves as God’s Christian volunteers, enlisting to fight on behalf of the needy by practicing good works. The early members of our movement thought of their involvement as a full-time, life-long endeavor.

Today, voluntary community service has become commonplace. While few people in 1896 spent their spare time volunteering to help others, I’m pleased to say that today it has become quite common. And, as society has evolved over the past century, so too has the approach taken by Volunteers of America to serve those who need our help.

Today, most Volunteers of America programs are staffed by a family of 16,000 full-time, paid professionals who have adopted this same ideal of service as their full-time mission. But that doesn’t mean we don’t also depend on an army of 65,000 “volunteers” in the modern sense, who offer their free time to support our programs nationwide.

These volunteers provided more than 1.3 million hours of service during 2010 alone, performing work such as delivering Meals on Wheels; providing administrative support such as answering phones, performing clerical work, research, facility, maintenance, and food or clothing collection; and providing professional services such as legal counsel, public relations, training and motivational speaking.

One of our signature volunteer-oriented efforts is the Action Team program, a partnership between Volunteers of America and the Major League Baseball Players Trust to encourage young people throughout the United States to volunteer in their communities.

The partnership features the personal involvement of Major League baseball players and high school student volunteers with a variety of programs conducted by Volunteers of America throughout the United States. Since the partnership’s formation in 2002, Action Teams of high school students and Major Leaguers across the country have inspired more than 26,000 high school students to help almost 111,000 people in need by volunteering in their communities.

It is through programs like the Action Teams that Volunteers of America keeps the spirit of our founders alive by fostering a new generation of volunteers and encouraging people of all ages to make service to others a lifelong priority. Only by all of us working together – trained professionals and everyday folks – will we be able to make a real difference in the lives of all those who need our help.

For more information on how to get involved with a Volunteers of America program in your community, visit http://www.voa.org/Get-Involved/Volunteer/Volunteer_Locally.

– By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

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On May 10, 2011, we convened our third-annual roundtable of experts at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to discuss the urgent issues facing older Americans today. This year’s discussion — Women and Aging 2011: Policy Implications for an Aging Population — focused specifically on the significance of aging women in the home, workplace and broader community, with an in-depth discussion on the public policy and other solutions needed to head off an impending crisis of the nation’s elderly.

“The good news is that women are living longer,” said panelist Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “The bad news is that they also living poorer and sicker. They earn less, save less and are still the primary caregivers [for older family members].”

Our National President Mike King shared with the audience and fellow panelists his experiences caring for his mother as she grew older, something he considered an honor rather than a burden. He added that it is critical to talk to aging family members about their needs and preferences before it’s too late.

“You can’t start the discussion on family care choices early enough,” King said.

Panelist Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, drew a contrast between her native Greek heritage and American culture.

“There is something in [American] culture that does not respect and revere age,” she said. “We need to redefine what it is to take care of older family members so that task is not perceived as drudgery.”

Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, executive vice president of multicultural markets and engagement for AARP, said she was personally surprised at how unprepared she is for the task of now caring for her own mother. “The biggest barriers are lack of knowledge and preparation,” she said.

Ms. Cortés-Vázquez said that challenges in caregiving for the elderly center on four areas: health issues; legal issues, including the need to make decisions about care well in advance; the need to prepare for aging at home rather than seeking institutional care; and the “myth” that Medicare will provide completely for one’s long-term care. She stressed that we must explore alternatives to Medicare such as long-term care insurance.

The May 10 roundtable, moderated by Medical journalist and best-selling author Dr. Bob Arnot, served as a launch for our new white paper — Boomer Bust 2011: Still Unprepared and Unaware — featuring new research that paints a disturbing picture of the financial realities faced by seniors and their caregivers. According to the white paper, women over age 60 make up a rapidly growing percentage of the people retired or facing retirement and comprise 80 percent of the caregivers for chronically ill or aging relatives.

Ness also emphasized the need to prepare for aging while also stressing that existing public policy “has a long way to go” to help caregivers reach their own old age with adequate preparation.

“Take care of your own health, and learn about financial planning,” she said. “Understand how you want to be cared for and communicate that to your future caregivers.”

We encourage you to remain active in this national debate either through our blog or through your own established blog.  Thanks to bloggers like Rosie Lumetta , Anthony Cirillo, Carol Bradley BursackLynne Spreen and ElderCarelink the conversatons we started at this event will remain at the forefront of public discussion.  You can help keep the momentum going by posting and encouraging those on your blogroll to do the same.  To get more information or to obtain exclusive blogger content contact David Burch

Whether you attended the event in person, watched the livestream, view the event now or follow the twitter conversation about it, please share your impression of the event and the important issues it raised.  With a projected 71.5 million people aged 65 or older by 2030 and long-term costs continuing to rise with many Americans unprepared for – and unaware of the those costs – the time is now to focus on changes necessary to ensure everyone receives the care they need as they grow older.

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