Senior centers have a constant -and critical - need for volunteers

Monday, June 4, 2012
Staff and volunteers make trays of food for seniors as they pass through the lunch line Friday, May 25, at the Cape Girardeau Senior Center (ADAM VOGLER)

Your local senior center is more than a place to have lunch. It's a place to share stories and memories, talk current events and get to know your peers.

Whether you come to eat or hang out all afternoon, senior centers have plenty of hands-on activities: A weekly craft group makes table decorations to brighten the center's dining room, and a quilting group makes quilts that are raffled off at fundraisers. In Cape Girardeau and Jackson, seniors can participate in Bible study, bridge, pinochle, painting, exercise classes and, of course, bingo. They can get assistance with paperwork, listen to music by local entertainers or attend informative presentations by guest speakers. A monthly party celebrates birthdays and anniversaries, and a monthly dance gets everyone moving to their favorite music.

None of this would happen, though, without the volunteers.

"The volunteers are the very heart of this organization," says Susan McClanahan, director at the Cape Girardeau Senior Center. "It is through their generosity that we are able to do what we do."

The need for volunteers is critical, says McClanahan. Summer always sees a decrease in the number of available volunteers, and at the centers in Cape Girardeau and Jackson, this means scrambling every day to fill vacancies. A minimum of 20 volunteers are needed each day at each site. These volunteers provide invaluable support to the centers, but more importantly, to the seniors those centers serve.

At both the Cape Girardeau and Jackson centers, 300 meals or more are prepared each day to be served on site or delivered to homebound seniors. McClanahan says the delivery routes are always either full or growing: "They never get smaller."

Karen Stafford, administrative assistant in the Cape Girardeau Senior Center, says although the mission of the program is to provide a hot, nutritious meal to seniors, the program does much more than that. Volunteers delivering meals also provide welfare check-ins and what may be the only social contact a senior has that day.

John Schott twirls dance partner Glenda Horton May 23, 2012 at the Jackson Senior Center. (LAURA SIMON)

Claire Alicata, a volunteer at the Jackson Senior Center, says the number of people dining at the center is increasing each month. This means there is an increased need for volunteers. Alicata started volunteering after moving to Southeast Missouri from California. Like many volunteers, she started working in the kitchen, part of an assembly line that packages meals for delivery. She works one five-hour shift per week and has volunteered for six years. Alicata says volunteering at the senior center "is a great way to meet people. And it's a fun group, a very happy group."

Delores Myers has volunteered at the Cape Girardeau Senior Center for at least 15 years. Twice each week, Myers delivers meals prepared at the Cape Girardeau center to the Scott City center where they are served.

"I learned to drive a van -- something I never thought I'd do," says Myers. She finds delivering the meals rewarding and enjoys being around the people at the senior center, pointing out, "Where else are you going to go to get a meal like that, for the money, and the friendship?"

Alicata and Myers both belong to the site councils at their respective senior centers. These groups meet monthly to plan special events at the centers.

Volunteers work behind the scenes as well. At Jackson's center, volunteers monitor the maintenance of the vans and even wash them. Others do yard work and landscaping, Jean Mason, administrative assistant says.

McClanahan and Stafford invite church, Bible study and other groups to "own" one day each week or month, sending volunteers from the group to work together on their chosen day.

"We can always use volunteers in every area. Come see what we do," says Debbie Stockton, director at the Jackson Senior Center. Staff and volunteers at both sites agree the best way to learn more about volunteer opportunities at the senior centers is to join the group for lunch and activities. Stockton and McClanahan say the centers will work with volunteers to accommodate their schedules and to provide opportunities that fit their preferences.

"We are very flexible," says McClanahan.

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