Qualityof life for Mature Adults

Published on Thu, Feb 10, 2005
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Quality of life for Mature Adults

Volunteering: A way to stay young & involved

By Jack Kintner

Every month the Whatcom Volunteer Center sends out a packet listing between four and five hundred volunteer opportunities. The possibilities it presents to people who want to get involved are enormous.

You can make connections to deliver meals on wheels, help build houses on Lummi Island or exterminate pests that have infested a Bellingham specialized hospice (that one’s marked ASAP!). You can help paint a wall blue at a local home, remodel for the opportunity council, help cheer up a kid who’s blue about her arithmetic homework or sail the ocean blue with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The variety and demand is dazzling, and beyond the activities of a few ecumenical associations like the Inter-Faith Council, local churches aren’t listed. If they were the list could easily triple in length.

In Blaine, the schools rely heavily on volunteers. Elementary school principal Deb Cummings said that “we use a core of 100 or more to help out in various ways, go on field trips, help organize special days, grade papers, whatever you can think of. Maybe 20 percent are seniors, something like that, giving kids a role model. And there are people who come in and share their special skills, like the local cartoonist who shows kids how to draw, and a dad who’s a firefighter and talks about his work, a mom who just started a chess club. There’s all kinds of things going on.”

Like being outdoors? Many agencies need help tending to the outsides of their buildings, and the local, county, state and federal parks in the area all use volunteers in a wide variety of ways, from being a beach naturalist to camping out near places where spawning salmon congregate to help keep them safe from predation and poaching.
Perhaps the best volunteer story in Blaine concerns our police chief Mike Haslip. His police career began not as a patrolman but when he volunteered to be Blaine’s unpaid dog catcher. It’s safe to assume, now that he’s chief, that Haslip knows every rung of the ladder up close and personal, from the bottom to the top.

Volunteering demands dedication and discipline, not unlike taking a new job. The top of the stack in terms of performance based on dedication are volunteer firefighters, who sacrifice gobs of time in addition to putting themselves in harm’s way just to provide a service to a community in a way that is challenging and personally rewarding. A dedicated volunteer firefighter illustrates the difference between vocation, or calling (same root as the word we use for “voice”), and just having a job.

Without volunteer firefighters, Blaine and Birch Bay would be hard-pressed to have a department at all. The cost would soar because the two-thirds of District 13’s firefighters who are volunteers would have to be replaced with paid staff. Response times to fires would multiply until more facilities could be built to accommodate more staff, and the kind of medical transport we have now would virtually disappear.

In fact, you may note that while the county and the city of Bellingham are having trouble funding Medic One to provide advanced life support (ALS) service to Whatcom County, the roughly equivalent basic life support (BLS) service provided by fire districts ticks along like a Swiss watch because the fire district BLS units use volunteers.

Though at first this may not seem like a suitable volunteer opportunity for seniors, it is for those who are in reasonable shape and can commit to the task. A 64-year-old man from Point Roberts passed all the qualifying tests there just two years ago.Blaine has an additional volunteer opportunity most other communities lack, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, represented locally by Blaine’s own Flotilla 19. As in most military situations, the emphasis is on training.

If you’ve ever watched the sailboats go out for a race or powerboats headed out for a picnic and wanted to go along, this is your chance, because they will train you to a standard of competency even if the only thing you’ve ever done with water involves a wash cloth and soap.
The flotilla meets the first Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Blaine Harbor boating center, and is a great senior volunteer opportunity - the oldest flotilla member is 83.

Blaine’s churches are another place where you’ll find volunteer opportunities. The advantage in volunteering in a church setting is that a project comes with a built-in community supporting it. It’s a great way for people who like to teach classes on just about anything find an audience. If you’re motivated to be a caregiver then churches are usually a much quicker and easier way to find a spot to work because they have so many different ways of becoming involved in addition to their own members who might want to get the kind of help you can offer. The outstanding example of Good Samaritan-inspired work is, of course, Stafholt Good Samaritan Center.

What makes the volunteering worth it? It’s almost always a people-centered way to spend your days. It’s dignified, furthermore, even if you’re changing bedpans for people too sick to know you’re in the room because it’s something you choose to do each time. And finally, the world as we know it wouldn’t work very well without it.