Nursing home’s volunteer program disbands due to dwindling numbers; only 19% of Kentucky seniors volunteer, worst in U.S.

Sunrise Manor volunteers used money from fees to buy items that residents could use. Here, Tickle Ragland, second row at left, and Rebekah Okeson, second row at right, are pictured with some residents sporting sweatshirts the organization purchased as a Christmas gift for every resident.
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After 38 years, a volunteer program at the Signature Healthcare nursing home in Hodgenville has disbanded, Ron Benningfield reports for the LaRue County Herald-News.

The Sunrise Manor Volunteers were known as the “Redcoats” for the jackets they wore, Benningfield reports, noting three of the program’s earliest volunteers.

He writes that the volunteers helped the nursing-home residents with a wide range of things, from making sure they got to planned activities to polishing their nails — but most importantly, they spent time with them.

“One of the most important roles, though, was just to be there to give them a hug, a pat on the back, and let them know you cared about them,” said Ruth Ann Brown, one of the early volunteers.

Volunteers also paid membership fees to purchase items for residents, including Christmas presents. “Some of the residents didn’t have any living family and some had no one to visit them, so we wanted to make sure that every one of them knew we hadn’t forgotten them,” longtime volunteeer LaDean Self told Benningfield.

The volunteers, dressed in their red jackets, also sat as a group at many residents’ funerals or lined up outside the church or funeral home as a post-service honor guard for the deceased.

Ragland told Benningfield that the program was once voted the best nursing-home volunteer group in Kentucky, but its numbers have dwindled from more than 100 to less than 50, with only 16 attending the last membership meeting.

The seasoned volunteers told Benningfield that lack of time and a dwindling desire to help old, sick people were reasons for their dwindling numbers.

Sonya Turner, quality of life director at Sunrise Manor, told Benningfield that Signature has its own volunteer program, and volunteers are still needed. And “just to set the record straight,” she said, the Redcoat group did not disband because of Signature.

Turner said, “Being a volunteer doesn’t mean every day–just an hour or two once a week would be a blessing. We all know that love is spelled T-I-M-E.”

Seniors make great volunteers

AARP
, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, recently released a report saying that volunteers should be recruited among seniors, largely because they have the time to do so.

AARP graphic

The online survey of 1,522 adults looked at the behaviors and interest surrounding adult volunteering activities. It found that adults 65 and older were more likely than younger adults to volunteer frequently, with 32 percent volunteering weekly and 20% doing it monthly.

Seniors also volunteered more hours on a regular basis than younger adults, at an average of 10 hours per month, compared to nine hours for those 18-34 and eight hours for those 35-64. The main reason given by seniors for not being able to volunteer was health problems.

Only 18.9% of Kentucky’s seniors volunteer, worst in the nation, according to America’s Health Rankings. Kentucky’s seniors rank 49th in health.

The AARP survey found that 69% of adults in the U.S. volunteer in some capacity. Of those, 29% said they helped a person in need and 23% said they helped an elderly person, but only 6% said they volunteered in a clinic, hospital or health-care facility.

Younger adults cited time constraints as their main reason for not volunteering, with work (25%) and family (22%) listed as the top two reasons. Among all adults, 21% volunteer weekly and 24% monthly.

The survey noted that volunteers tend to be more optimistic and engaged in their communities than non-volunteers: 45% and 27%, respectively. Volunteers were much more likely than non-volunteers to read newspapers: 62% and 34%, respectively.

It also found that a personal connection or a personal request was the best way to find more volunteers, with 23% in the survey reporting they volunteered with an organization because they knew someone who volunteers with that organization.

That said, a challenge for nursing homes seeking volunteers is that about half of adults say they’re looking for ways to volunteer that don’t involve personal engagement. The survey found that 52 % were very or somewhat interested in volunteering from home and the same percentage were interested in only volunteering small increments of time.