Better Together

Thoughts on the importance of volunteerism by Jeannette Magdaleno, manager of lifelong learning and volunteer services

Jeannette Magdaleno

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Two weeks ago residents of Friendship Village celebrated Martin Luther King Day through special service projects including making sack lunches for  The Barn Senior Center and for Cedar Village, a local subsidized senior living community in Schaumburg. Later that day, our residents made fleece dog blankets for donation to Second City Canine Rescue for senior dogs in foster care.  This was our fourth annual observance of Martin Luther King Day, and while it’s a popular program it’s just a very small part of our volunteerism at Friendship Village.  There is a strong culture at Friendship Village of giving back to the community.

We have in fact changed the volunteer paradigm in retirement communities. While it’s common, (and important) to have volunteers from the outside donating their time and expertise within a retirement community, it is as important to encourage volunteerism by residents outside of our campus.

In order to orchestrate this paradigm shift, we launched a program in which we identify local organizations serving individuals in need, and we provide volunteers to those groups, acting as teachers, ambassadors, counselors and more.  To date, the volunteer initiative, called the Senior Outreach Coalition, has donated more than 10,000 hours of community service by 500 residents.

Some of the recipients of our volunteerism efforts have included: 

  • Children Home and Aid-Residents from Friendship Village interact with the children, lead annual school and personal items drives for at-risk families, and provide musical entertainment.
  • WINGS-Residents volunteer at this local charity resale store. Proceeds from the shop help homeless and abused women and children by offering integrated services that meet their needs for shelter, education, guidance and support.
  • Feed My Starving Children-Twice a year, residents and associates from Friendship Village put together nutritious packets of chicken, vegetables, soy and rice at this organization committed to feeding children who suffer from debilitating lifelong diseases or face death from malnutrition.
  • New Life for Old Bags-One of our major volunteer initiatives is called New Life for Old Bags. A group of volunteers. sort, cut, and tie together strips of plastic shopping bags and crochet this plastic ‘trash’ into beautiful sleeping mats for the homeless.  Our volunteers have been featured twice on a local TV station for this project.
  • Ronald McDonald House-Each year, a group of volunteers, along with our head chef, prepare a complete brunch at The Ronald McDonald House, which offers housing, food and support to families of children who are hospitalized for serious illnesses.
  • Local schools-Our residents are involved in various capacities with local grade, junior high and high schools. The intergeneration component adds another layer of richness to volunteering.

We’re delighted that residents of Friendship Village are so driven by giving back. In addition to sharing their talents and expertise with others, the residents reap significant benefits as well. According to Senior Corps, our residents are part of a veritable army of more than 26 million seniors enjoying the strong sense of purpose and accomplishment that comes with volunteerism.  Furthermore, volunteerism can help maintain health and cognitive function, and help alleviate stress, depression and chronic pain.

And we see for ourselves, immediately, that helping others, kindles happiness. That is one of the many reasons why Friendship Village residents are the happiest people around!


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