With the holiday season upon us, many of us will be going off to celebrate with friends, families and loved ones. The season can be quite difficult for others, especially for people experiencing isolation.
LGBT older adults experience extremely high rates of loneliness and isolation. Overcoming this isolation can be difficult. Forming new social networks later in life is challenging for many people. Many LGBT older adults want to find ways to get more involved in their communities, but don’t always know how.
A 2014 study from SAGE found that volunteering was one of the common activities that LGBT people hoped to do more of during retirement. The study also found that LGBT people were twice as likely as non-LGBT people to want to serve as mentors to others. However, a quarter of LGB people and a third of transgender people surveyed reported fearing that volunteer opportunities would not be open to them if their sexual orientations or gender identities were known.
While these concerns are very real, we are fortunate in the Philadelphia region to have abundant volunteer opportunities that are open and accepting of people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and ages. Many organizations are intentionally trying to recruit more diverse groups of volunteers, especially older adults who have developed skills and expertise throughout their lives.
Volunteering can be a win-win situation, benefiting not only the community being served but also the volunteers themselves. While we may typically think of volunteering as something we would do to help others, volunteerism can be a great way for LGBT older adults to get involved, stay healthy and develop the supports needed to age successfully.
Volunteering can help reduce isolation
Many older individuals express finding it difficult to meet new people in their elder years. Volunteering can provide a great opportunity to get out and meet new people who share similar interests. People who volunteer frequently cite the social aspects of volunteerism and being part of a community as motivations for their volunteer work. Being able to work alongside like-minded people is a great way to form friendships and develop supportive social networks at any age.
Volunteering is good for your health
There are clear links between isolation and poor physical health outcomes, such as cognitive decline, high blood pressure, heart disease and premature mortality. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, isolation carries health risks comparable to the risks associated with obesity or cigarette smoking. Getting out of the house and being social and active is a great way to reduce some of these health risks. While many people participate in charity walks or runs, volunteering does not need to include serious exercise to benefit your physical well-being.
Volunteering allows you to use your skills in meaningful way
Many older adults report feeling a sense of loss after retiring. Not only do people lose some of the regular social interactions they got through their jobs, but they may also lose some of the opportunities to utilize their skills. Finding volunteer opportunities in similar fields as your past careers can allow you to use the expertise you developed throughout decades in the workforce. Doing the things you’re good at to benefit the causes you care about is a great way to keep your mind sharp and maintain social connections, without all the responsibilities and burdens of being a full-time employee.
Volunteering can help the communities that you are part of
Many individuals are drawn to volunteering out of a desire to help their communities. By volunteering within your communities, you can help to create communities that will be there to support you as you yourself grow older. Joining a neighborhood association, for example, can benefit your geographic area. Volunteering with LGBT organizations can improve the resources and services available within our local LGBT communities.
The LGBT Elder Initiative will hold a free forum on community engagement and volunteerism for LGBT older adults at 1 p.m. Dec. 1 at William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St. “Connecting with Community: Get Out and Give Back” will explore ways for LGBT older adults to get more involved in their communities and to find volunteer opportunities that match their skills, interests and experiences. Attendees will be able to connect with representatives from organizations seeking older volunteers. The program is presented in collaboration with the Philadelphia Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service.
David Griffith is the director of programs and outreach for the LGBT Elder Initiative. To learn more about the LGBT Elder Initiative and upcoming programs for LGBT older adults, visit www.lgbtelderinitiative.org.