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Volunteering in tiny ways can make big difference

There are many ways to impact a person's life. It can be beneficial or it could be detrimental. By and large the most common interactions we have with shopkeepers, neighbors, friends and family are favorable. We help one another and value our contacts with each other.

A time may come when you have needs that are not commonly met by your friends and neighbors. Usually a family member steps in and assists you in your time of trouble. Without this invaluable shoulder to lean on, who fills the gap? Sometimes it is a volunteer from church, a volunteer from an outreach program funded by the local government agency, or a volunteer from a local not-for-profit organization.

How do you make a difference in someone's life? By volunteering. By writing letters or stuffing envelopes. By making phone calls. By supporting with donations if you are unable to volunteer time.

Here are some ways to make a difference.

Smile: You know that smiles are contagious. They use fewer muscles so it can't be more work than frowning. Lighten up the day with your smile, and you lighten up the day for everyone you see.

Help: This can be as simple as picking up groceries for a homebound neighbor or visiting a lonely elder. Just being a frequent part of their lives gives connection and can spark the desire to live. Knowing someone cares enough to stop by once or twice a week can put the sparkle back in his eye or the spring in her step. Be helpful, it is a neighborly thing to do. Someday, you could be in the receiving position. Wouldn't you want to know someone cares?

Church visitors bring the comfort of familiar rituals and tapes of sermons. Social services and Senior Outreach programs help with chores and the loan of equipment such as walkers and wheelchairs. Help can take the shape of many types of assistance, and the size can be large or small.

Friendship: Being a friend implies a commitment to middle-of-the-night phone calls, crying on the shoulder, standing side by side with your friend through grief, disaster and turmoil. Be a friend, you will make a difference in the person's life. Someone to share with and lean on can be the best medicine. Someone to talk to, laugh and cry with, and not be judged is empowering. You can come away from those situations stronger and healthier because you made a difference. (Yes, healthier. It has been proven in many studies that blood pressure is lowered, stamina is increased, and the outlook and morale are improved with involvement through volunteering.)

Steady hand, soft shoulder, strong back: Lend a hand to a walker with a cane or a child crossing a busy street. Lend a soft shoulder to cry on while a pet dies. No words are necessary, just a dry hankie and patience. Lend a strong back when there are weeds to be pulled, or offer to hire and supervise a young person from the neighborhood.

Respite: By sitting with a sick or disabled or frail individual, you can allow the regular caregiver the opportunity to rest and relax. It doesn't have to be for long, but if you do this on a regular basis, it can give the caregiver a chance to restore his or her energy and avoid the pitfalls of burnout. You can be a role model by setting this type of example. You can help society and the local community by enabling this family to stay out of an institution. For informal training on providing respite, please contact an organization such as Alzheimer's Family Organization, Hospice, or a local support group of interest to you.

Phone tree, phone reassurance: You can join a senior center phone reassurance program and assist with keeping connected to a person who is home alone. A phone tree can help group and church members keep in touch with each other and informed about future events.

Intrepid volunteers are angels in disguise. They go where others fear to tread. They help. They are companions. They give respite. They care. They bring comfort, sympathy, solace and compassion. Their existence can prevent isolation and frustration and neglect. The count goes on; thankfully, it goes on and on.

_ Alberta Beversdorf lives in Port Richey.

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