Francisco “Frank” Romero, a 75-year-old retired elementary school principal with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, has logged almost 150 hours as a volunteer at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, where he serves as an “ambassador,” greeting and assisting arriving patients and visitors. He jokes that his volunteer gig is his personal “Fountain of Youth.”
He may be right. A report published in Archives of Internal Medicine in June 2009 shows that the social interaction of volunteering helps seniors maintain better muscle strength, dexterity, and balance. “[Previous] studies have shown that cognitive and social activities in the elderly are associated with increased survival and a decreased risk of dementia,” wrote researcher Dr. Aron Buchman, associate professor of neurological sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “Our study extends these findings, showing that social activity late in life is closely linked with healthy motor function.”
Volunteering is a great way to stay socially involved after retirement. “After 46 years in education, I need to still be surrounded by people,” says Romero, an Arizona native of Mexican descent. “At the end of my four-hour shift, I feel invigorated and I know that I have made a difference. It gives me another reason for getting up in the morning. I feel an energy rush that permeates my entire system.”
Even those who work full-time benefit from squeezing volunteer activities into an already crowded schedule. “There were times in my life when I needed encouragement,” says Maria Monica Ranero Rapps, 53. “Now it’s my turn to encourage others. My family is from Guatemala, and I am thankful to be the first to be born in the United States. I believe others deserve the opportunities we take for granted.”
On top of her full-time job as a paralegal and pursuing her passion as a competitive golfer, she volunteers as a speaker and instructor in paralegal classes, works on charity golf events, notarizes estate-planning documents for first responders, helps legal residents complete citizenship forms, and participates in various fundraising events.
Occasionally she gets tired, she admits, but that’s a good thing: “The word ‘boredom’ is not in my vocabulary. If I didn’t volunteer, perhaps my house would be cleaner. But my house will always be here. I am enjoying my life now.”
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