If you want to live longer, be happier, stay mentally sharp or just enjoy life after 65, become a volunteer.
Older adults who give their time and energy to worthy causes have lower mortality rates and rates of depression, research has found, along with fewer physical limitations and higher levels of overall well-being. Now that the alarm clock no longer buzzes and the kids are grown, you might consider joining three local folks to help others.
Otto Muller-Girard was a consulting engineer helping to design electrical and mechanical components back in the mid-1980s, when he decided to give his off-hours to a different kind of work. Rochester’s Third Presbyterian Church, of which he is a member, was sponsoring the building of a home for someone in need, and Muller-Girard pitched in at the construction site. He soon found that he enjoyed physically laboring for the good of others.
“It’s a counterpoint to the pressure of business,” the 87-year-old explains.
In 1994, Muller-Girard began volunteering for Flower City Habitat for Humanity, a Rochester non-profit. Each week, he helped erect houses with city residents who lacked the income needed to buy their own.
“I worked outdoors on the foundations, walls, roofs, interiors—doing, basically, carpentry work,” the Rochester resident says.
Muller-Girard eventually retired from his own engineering consulting business, and in 2003 switched from con-
structing homes for Flower City Habitat to building cabinets for their kitchens. Since then, the great-grandfather has spent six hours a week at the non-profit’s Culver Road workshop. Working alongside the other volunteers on his small crew is a big part of the fun.
“There’s a certain camaraderie that is enjoyable while doing useful work for somebody,” he says.
As Muller-Girard helps create new homes that could last decades, Carol Sample comforts those in their last months of life. A retired college professor, Sample is a hospice volunteer. The work has special meaning for her.
“I consider it an honor and a blessing to be able to walk this final journey with these patients,” says the 68-year-old Hilton resident.
Sample began volunteering at Journey Home, a Greece hospice, about two years ago. Though she now spends about 10 hours a month bathing, feeding and caring for patients, she often has to reintroduce herself to them again and again.
“A lot of times they don’t remember me,” Sample says. “Many of the patients are suffering from dementia.”
Sample’s experiences at Journey Home led her to look into the spiritual and emotional elements of hospice work. After completing chaplaincy courses at a local seminary, the wife, mother and grandmother began volunteering in the Visiting Nurse Service of Rochester and Monroe County Inc. chaplaincy program about a year ago.
Sample now provides pastoral care for as many as six hospice patients a week under the supervision of a chaplain, while continuing to volunteer at Journey Home. Whether her patients are staying in the Leo Center for Caring, a Rochester hospice that VNS and St. Ann’s Community jointly run, or in another local setting, Sample finds the time to give them spiritual comfort in their last days. Prayer is an important part of her work.
“We either hold hands and pray together, or I put my hands on their shoulder and pray over them,” she says. “It’s vital to my hospice pastoral care.”
Once a week, Sample helps host a chaplain’s tea, complete with bone china and lace tablecloths, for the families of hospice patients at Leo’s Center for Caring.
“The families are suffering and grieving, as well,” she says.
If you enjoy listening to good music, watching live theater productions or learning about elephants, you might have run into Lynn Harris. The 69-year-old Penfield resident has helped make all three types of pursuits possible in Rochester.
Harris began spending time with elephants about 35 years ago, when she became a docent for the Seneca Park Zoo. Nowadays, she devotes about four hours a week to teaching visitors about the zoo’s residents—especially the biggest ones.
“I especially like to narrate the elephant’s baths,” the married mother of two grown children says.
Those who enjoyed the 2015 First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival might also have run into Harris, who has volunteered during the event for three years. She gave a total of 35 hours to it this year alone.
“I’ve done everything from being a runner at the office to ushering,” she says.
When other worthy causes do not call upon her time, Harris likes to volunteer for Geva Theatre Center and the Auditorium Theatre.
“I feel like I’m helping out someone or something that needs it, and hopefully (they) can benefit from my help,” she says.
Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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