For Boomers in retirement and more free time, volunteering is a great way to stay active, do good and meet people. Athens offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, and non-profits all over town are looking for support, and in return providing participants with opportunities for education, social events, friendships, and purpose.
St. Mary’s offers many opportunities.
An organization always looking for volunteers is St. Mary’s Healthcare System, a Regional Health Ministry in Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest Catholic health care systems. St. Mary’s has been serving Northeast Georgia for more than 116 years and has several options for volunteering including three hospital locations, St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Hospital in Lavonia, and St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital in Greensboro as well as hospice volunteers in surrounding counties.
Lynn McCarty, 68, moved to Athens in 2018 and has been volunteering at St. Mary’s for almost five years. A former paralegal and high school administrative assistant, McCarty says, “I always wanted to volunteer in a hospital, and it’s been wonderful from day one. At first it was a way of finding something to do in a move to a new town, but I also wanted to give back to the community and to make a difference in the lives of others.”
Although McCarty primarily works as a greeter at the front desk, she also has behind-the-scenes responsibilities as the volunteer board’s president. The board meets once a month to assess the needs of the hospital, to plan the annual fund raiser and to determine how to spend funds. In recent years the auxiliary has funded a Tranquility Suite for families of hospice care patients in the hospital and a garden for memory care patients at Highland Hills senior living facility.
For people interested in volunteering at St. Mary’s, lines of service include information desks, pet therapy, the gift shop, the thrift store, and the new “Cuddles” program which uses volunteers to rock babies.
Due to the Covid pandemic, the volunteer program at St. Mary’s has faced recent challenges. “We couldn’t be in the hospital for a year and a half,” McCarty says. “We lost a lot of volunteers, and we still haven’t recouped.”
After filling out an application, those interested in volunteering at St. Mary’s will be contacted by a representative to select an area of service and schedule an orientation session. Those born after 1957 are required to show evidence of MMR vaccinations or provide titer tests to show immunity and submit to a two-step negative TB screen. Annual dues for volunteers are $15. To find out more about volunteering at St. Mary’s check out the website at: https://www.stmaryshealthcaresystem.org/careers/volunteer-at-st-marys/adult-auxiliary-volunteers.
Wheels of Hope drivers
Another opportunity to volunteer in a healthcare-related area is with the Wheels of Hope program. This nonprofit transportation service serves Athens and surrounding areas by providing rides to individuals who can’t drive due to age, illness, or disability. Unlike other transportation options, the drivers with Wheels of Hope stay with their passengers throughout the trip to provide assistance.
Executive Director, Marlene Koncewicz moved to Athens 12 years ago with her husband. Looking to be more involved in the community, she says Wheels of Hope is a perfect fit. “I love driving around, and I love adventures. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the area and the lives of the clients.”
Clients and volunteers are carefully matched as drivers and often accompany their passengers as they grocery shop or attend a doctor’s appointment. There is no charge, but donations are accepted. Most people try to help with gas and other expenses.
Wheels of Hope, says Koncewicz, is a perfect alternative for those who would require assistance to get in and out of an Uber. It fills the niche of people who not only need rides, but who also need someone by their side as a friend. The unique aspect of Wheels of Hope is the arm-in-arm service.
“Medical appointments are where we shine,” says Koncewicz. “A lot of people miss appointments because they don’t have rides,” although she says one of her most enjoyable memories was driving some older men to a pizza party.
Wheels of Hope welcomes Boomers to volunteer. They are looking for people who are reliable and willing to commit to one year with a minimum of four hours per month. Volunteers must have a valid driver’s license and at least three years driving experience. Likewise, drivers must have a safe driving record with no moving violations for at least three years. Other requirements include a clear criminal history check, proof of insurance, current registration for each vehicle used to transport clients and three personal non-relative references.
After a background check, volunteers are matched to riders to ensure that the pairs are a good fit. Koncewicz says they are hoping to expand into a larger area around Athens and want to have more Saturday/Sunday options available in the future for church rides and events. For more information on volunteering with Wheels of Hope, check out their website at https://wheelsofhopegeorgia.org/volunteer.
SCORE was formed as a nonprofit in 1964 to help small business owners. It originally stood for Service Corps of Retired Executives but today it’s known just as SCORE. For businesspeople who still want to keep their hand in and give a helping hand, the Northeast Georgia chapter is looking for volunteers to advise people who want to start a small business or need help growing a small business.
The ideal volunteers for SCORE are or have been successful real-world business professionals who have experience in a particular aspect of owning and operating a business. Mentors counsel in areas such as accounting, finance, human resources, and law.
Volunteer William Fay, 71, started, operated, and sold two successful businesses during his career. He says that after years of making very serious decisions week in and week out, after retiring, he found himself missing the stimulation of running a business. “I realized what I was missing was having serious conversations with people.”
As a SCORE mentor he is able not only to pass on knowledge, but also share his passion for the work. “How to price, how to market, how to sell. It’s all an intense process,” says Fay. “I talk with a lot of smart people. They are very serious, and it’s fun to have those intense conversations. I would use the word ‘meaningful.’”
Most of Fay’s volunteer work is done on the phone. Some clients have one phone conversation and get their answers. Others may seek mentoring for years to keep their businesses growing.
The personal benefits Fay enjoys as a volunteer include feeling useful and relevant. “I’m not good at just amusing myself,” he says. “I need to be involved with people. I like really serious focused conversations. I cherish those moments.”
SCORE mentor John Beverstein, 64, is not only a former business owner, but also ran a non-profit, so he is well aware of the importance of volunteers to an organization like SCORE. A UGA graduate, Beverstein owned a franchise business in Missouri for 18 years before selling it and returning to Athens.
One thing that Beverstein says makes SCORE a great place to volunteer is that each mentor brings something different to the table, and mentors can share their experiences with each other.
Boomer Charles Schrauth is still active in his business of recruitment and management consulting. He moved to Athens in 2005 and became a certified SCORE mentor in 2016. “SCORE is something I really love because you’re helping small businesses to thrive. We help them put it on paper and develop strategies. We make suggestions, but it’s up to clients to do it.”
Volunteering with SCORE takes a certain amount of dedication, says Schrauth. “It’s not where you meet once a month. You have a group of clients, and you might have to do a mentoring once a week or five times a week. It’s different than typical volunteering.”
For more information about volunteering with SCORE, go to https://www.score.org/volunteer-opportunities.
Georgia Museum of Art docents
Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, GMOA has long relied on specially trained volunteer docents to introduce and guide visitors through the museum, which has a permanent collection of more than 17,000 works and hosts 60,000 visitors each year.
Callan Steinmann, curator of education, who oversees the docent corps, says that being a docent is a unique volunteer opportunity. “Docents learn how to engage audiences and acquire special teaching techniques,” she says.
No experience in education or art is necessary, but the program requires a two-year commitment, 12 tours a year and attendance at continuing education meetings on two Monday mornings per month during the fall and spring semesters.
“Docents get a chance to learn about art history and get to talk to people. It’s a fun way to get to be social and share enthusiasm for art and the museum,” says Steinmann.
One of Steinmann’s favorite programs at the museum is the 5th grade tour program, which is part of UGA’s initiative to encourage local students to experience the campus. “It gets kids on campus to learn resources and see themselves as a college student in the future,” says Steinmann. “Around a thousand kids come through each year. And we rely on docents. It’s so fun to be in the museum with kids that are having a good time and the docents make that happen. That’s a highlight every year,” she says.
Jean Petrovs, 76, has volunteered as a docent with GMOA since 1995. One of her most special moments in the museum was during a 5th grade tour. “We were in the galleries and were coming downstairs to do activities,” says Petrovs. “A boy said, ‘This is the best day of my life!’ I thought he was putting me on, but he was genuine. I think it was an experience he hadn’t expected. He was surrounded by beautiful things. That’s the way you want them all to feel, and it was very touching.”
The Georgia Museum of Art webpage for volunteers is: https://georgiamuseum.org/join-and-give/volunteer/. Community docent education sessions at the museum start in August. Email email@example.com for more information or call 706.542.4662. There are also opportunities for volunteers to work in the Museum Shop, the library and during special events.
No matter what a person’s interest may be, Athens has a place to serve. Individuals looking for an uplifting activity can find satisfaction in supporting this community. “Volunteering is known to combat loneliness, depression and reduce stress,” says St. Mary’s volunteer McCarty. “It leads to great relationships and it’s fun.”
Kelly Capers is a freelance writer and homesteader who lives in Oglethorpe County.
If your nonprofit organization is seeking volunteers, leave your organization’s name, contact information, and brief description of volunteer work in the Comments Section. We will collate it and create a list for the fall issue of Boom.