Features The legacy impact

The legacy impact

Senior presence in our communities

NEMSCA volunteer Mary Staffeld helping with food distribution.

NORTHEAST MICHIGAN – It would be difficult to find a community in Northern Michigan that isn’t impacted by the work of its senior population.

And one of the organizations spearheading the coordination of those efforts is the Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency (NEMCSA).

NEMCSA Volunteer Coordinator Amy Cook Otto leads the charge of managing the group of over 300 volunteers aged 55 and over. 

In the last six months of seniors volunteering in roles with elementary schools, at food pantries, senior centers and hospitals, animal shelters, as well as serving at any of the 85 stations Amy coordinates for, there has been over 40,000 hours of service clocked in. 

Otto oversees the communication between community service agencies such as DHHS and the Area Agency on Aging, along with a score of organizations that serve those from the very young to the very old. 

One of those organizations is RSVP, started by the government in the 1970’s to encourage seniors 55+ to stay involved in their communities and to give back with the skills that they have learned in a lifetime. 

“If a volunteer has a skill of any kind, we can find a way to use it. Some seniors teach fitness classes like Tai chi or yoga, some work on office tasks for organizations with that kind of need. Some are outside with 4H or environmental groups or may work with veterans.”

Otto said volunteering keeps people from feeling isolated, improves mental health for both those giving and receiving.

“It fosters well-being, and allows seniors to meet new people and learn new skills themselves. So many great friendships are formed, and the way we structure volunteering is so flexible that it can work for anyone who is willing,” she added.

“We have some seniors who serve at multiple stations, some come one day a week or month, some serve more often. We work with seniors who may need a medical leave from volunteering, or who go south for winter, honoring the needs of those who give their time. The flexibility keeps things fun, and it never gets boring” says Cook Otto. 

Amy matches skills, time availability, and organizational needs with volunteers and only asks each month that a volunteer turns in a timesheet for their hours given, which helps Cook Otto apply for future funding for the program. 

For those under 55, Amy coordinates for a program called Shine Bright open to any age; that helps with special events, community clean ups, and homeless programs as well as other opportunities to serve. 

The mission of NEMCSA is to work to enhance the quality of life for people by empowering individuals and strengthening communities. 

There is a quiet and strong group of people that give their time and skills to make that mission a reality. They add depth and richness to the places where they share their skills, those around them are directly and immediately impacted.

You might consider this an invitation to join them and enjoy the benefits of the community they create and being part of the life-giving services, they provide for so many around us each day. 

For info email Otto at ottoa@nemcsa.org. 

Questions for the author? Contact her at thegiftwellnesscommunity@gmail.com with comments or story ideas. 

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