HAKOL Senior Living Feature: On the Rewards and Struggles of Volunteering

Reported by Ben Notis

As a volunteer for Jewish Family Service, Ron Segel gets around town. “I drive an extremely bright lady,” he said in a recent interview, referring to the JFS program that matches drivers with seniors who need rides. Segel is happy to help her get to doctor’s appointments. Plus, he said, “She’s terrific to talk to … I feel like I’m the one getting the benefit.”  

He brings up a good point. Studies have found that seniors who volunteer tend to live longer than those who don’t volunteer, possibly because of the increased physical, social and mental activity associated with volunteering. According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, volunteering offers abundant benefits for both the recipient and the volunteer. In particular, seniors who volunteer report lower disability, higher well-being, a shorter course of depression following bereavement and more sense of purpose.

That’s because many volunteers, Segel included derive a tremendous satisfaction from knowing they can help people. In addition to his nearly 20 years of service with JFS, Segel has been on the board of Tikvah House for 21 years. His role: keeping the books, in cooperation with Eva and Larry Levitt. “It’s not a complicated thing,” he said. On the side, he’s dabbled in landscaping at the house.

But Segel has also found another way to help others, proving there are always new frontiers as a volunteer. “Right now, besides driving for Jewish Family Service, I am [a volunteer at an] outpatient pediatric clinic,” Segel said. “One half day a week, I volunteer … as a reader. People bring their whole family sometimes because they can’t afford a sitter. I just find the young kids fascinating.”

In the process, Segel is developing a new skill, because many of the patients and families are Spanish-speaking. “A good friend of mine lent me a Spanish learning course because I want to be able to communicate at the hospital. I just like it. I am always trying to practice my Spanish and they roll their eyes. I’m not yet conversational …”

Segel’s experience shows some of the many ways volunteering becomes a bridge between people. “A lot of [the kids] struggle in school because they are in single parent homes or because they have no place to study because the house is chaotic,” he realized, adding, “I ask [the kids] to read to me; they love that, to feel like they can do something.”

To help the young readers connect with him,“I try very hard to get their names, to call them by their names,” he said. “They love that. Kids come in, they are adorable and anxious to learn. I enjoy children; I enjoy people. I told my supervisor, ‘I would pay you to come in here to do what I’m doing.’”

The need for volunteers just keeps growing. “On my particular shift, I’m the only person,” Segel said. “I regret that I can only take care of two or three kids. It’s a struggle to get volunteers.”



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