10 Ways to Connect With Your Community—and Have Fun Doing It

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08/19/2019

A few years ago, 68-year-old Beverly Douthet started taking beginner yoga classes. “It was the best thing I could have done for my state of mind and wellbeing,” says Douthet, who is a fitness coach, and now also teaches classes at a Los Angeles-area YMCA. “Some of the poses can be challenging, but in this class it’s all about practice.”

In addition to the social aspect of attending yoga classes, Douthet says you become stronger and more toned, and gain better flexibility and balance. Yoga may even help your hearing. “If you have injuries, a beginner yoga class is the place to start strengthening your body and mind,” she says. “Last but not least, you benefit by learning how to concentrate on your breathing to feel more peaceful.”

 

 

“When you move your body and exercise your brain, you invest in your well-being and longevity”

Milena Regos, co-founder Unhustle

Staying physically and mentally active is an important aspect of living a good, healthy and meaningful life. “When you move your body and exercise your brain, you invest in your well-being and longevity,” says Milena Regos, a certified Human Potential Coach and co-founder of Glenbrook, NV-based Unhustle, an organization that helps people find more time and build more intentional lives. “These activities help you to feel youthful.”

Seniors: move your body and exercise your brain

For seniors, social living is vitally important to their overall happiness and sense of purpose. As people enter retirement, they experience many changes, including leaving vibrant careers, downsizing their homes and contending with new health challenges—all of which can impact their mental and physical health.

Combating isolation is important 

Unfortunately, up to 17% of Americans 55 and older can become isolated from society, the AARP estimates. In fact, more than one-fourth (26%) of women ages 65 to 74 lived alone in 2018. This percentage jumped to 39% among women ages 75 to 84, and to 55% among women ages 85 and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Isolation often happens when seniors have less or little contact with their children, relatives, friends and the community at large. However, purposeful socialization is one key to healthy aging. For example, seniors who maintain an active social life may have a slower rate of memory decline, according to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Many seniors find that volunteering serves a dual purpose—they’re giving back and meeting people. Whether they’re sharing their knowledge and skills to their local historical society, getting involved in local politics, joining a sports team or volunteering at a food bank, by donating their time and expertise, they are creating meaningful connections.

10 ways to get involved now

Are you wondering how you can be more active in your neighborhood? Here are 10 ways you can get involved in your community—giving you the chance to pay it forward, have fun, stay active and bond with others.

1.  Become a merit badge counselor for BSA 

Getting involved with scouting is a great chance to work with young people, and to share your expertise or interest, whether it’s a hobby like leather-working or coin collecting, a profession like engineering or veterinary medicine, or even a life skill like cooking or communications. It’s easy to get involved, too: Volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America via your local BSA council or visit the Girl Scout’s volunteer page. You’ll need to complete and return an adult application, as well as undergo a screening process but you can see how rewarding it can be to work with young people.

2. Get involved in politics.

There are so many ways to get involved in politics on the national and local level. Volunteer to work for a candidate or a cause, a grassroots organization, or a political action committee. To encourage voting on a larger level, consider joining the League of Women Voters. You can also work the voting booths during elections. Finally, contact your local city or town hall to find out if they have committees or boards that need your help. If you’re really passionate about local issues, you might even consider a run for office.

3. Participate in library programs.

Your local library is a great place to engage with your community. When you scan your library’s bulletin board or online calendar, you’ll get a feel for the types of activities you’re most interested in: movie nights, presentations, performers, club meetings, concerts and other free activities. If you have a great idea for a course or club that your library doesn’t offer and you’re qualified to head it up, propose it to your library’s event manager. Also consider joining your local Friends of the Library group, which is made up of volunteers who support libraries in their communities in various ways. These include working with the library director on ongoing initiatives, spreading the word about library offerings, or raising money by holding a used book sale.

4. Join a partner or group exercise program.

Less than one-third of retirees between the ages of 65 and 74 are physically active, according to the University of Southern California’s School of Gerontology. As you age, inactivity can add to bone loss, joint pain, fat and other health issues.

There are lots of fun ways to be active after 50 and work with others as a team. Regos sees many retirees in her area engaging in group physical fitness activities, like pickleball, mountain biking and kiting.

Outside the gym, free and group fitness classes are popping up everywhere: in the park, at the beach, on the picturesque grounds of your local winery. “I love to do gentle yoga or QiGong outside,” Regos says. “I like to practice in the morning, by a lake, while soaking up the morning sunshine and the fresh air. If there’s a park nearby, you can practice there, too. Your town most likely has a local group you could join as well, stacking the benefits of connecting with other people while moving.”

As an extension of your yoga practice, Regos recommends daily contemplative breaks. “I recommend meditation and mindfulness to my clients to clear the mind, connect with your purpose and feel good throughout the day,” she says.

5. Pitch in at your local animal shelter.

Besides just the sheer joy of being surrounded by our furry friends, your local animal shelters and humane societies always need volunteers to care for the animals, organize fundraisers, host adoption events and perform other admin tasks. Some shelters offer programs where you can volunteer to walk dogs for ill or otherwise mobility-challenged people. Your shelter may also need volunteers to foster pets until they find a permanent home. If you have a friendly pet is to certify your pet through a pet-therapy training program, so you can take your animal to nursing homes or children’s hospitals to comfort the sick.

6. Join your local historical society..

As a retiree, there are so many roles to fill in a local historical society, depending on your interests and goals. You can act as a walking tour guide to share your knowledge of historical sites in your township, and it’s a great way to log some light exercise. Or, if you enjoy acting and dressing up, volunteer to be a reenactor at a special event. If you love outdoor work, pitch in with lawn mowing or weeding, which keeps you active, while providing a necessary service. 

“Overall, more than 90% of our 300 members are seniors,” says Kristi Kantorski, Art and Marketing Director at the Bordentown Historical Society in New Jersey. “They’re an incredible asset to us, as most are retired and desire to continue engaging with the public and sharing their learned skills, knowledge and experience with others. They choose to volunteer to keep their mind and body active and wish to feel positive about their achievements—the historical society affords them that.”

You can also consider joining your historical society as a board member for a chance to share your knowledge and experience from your personal career background. Kantorski adds that her group is always looking for videographers, researchers, grant writers, proofreaders, financial planners, educational outreach coordinators and event staff.

7. Become a docent.

If you love educating others (and are a people person), consider becoming a docent, either on a paid or volunteer basis. The great news is that you’ve got lots of options for docent programs, including museums, learning institutions, planetariums, botanical gardens and equestrian parks, as a start. “There are so many local opportunities for retirees to act as docents, including museum greeters and curators,” Kantorski says. “You’re an interactive source for the public to learn about their local history; you’re socializing with your peers, keeping your body and mind active in your retirement years, and above all, sharing your knowledge and personal experience with others.”

8. Have green thumbs? Tend your community garden.

Most towns have a community garden. If yours doesn’t, consider starting one. Gardens offer people the ability to grow fresh, organic fruits, vegetables and herbs, along with colorful flowers. Besides providing camaraderie and a sense of well-being, gardening offers retirees a plethora of other benefits: enjoyable exercise for mobility and flexibility, increased use of motor skills, and reduced stress. In addition, you get some healthy sun to boost vitamin D levels.

9. Get involved with your local schools.

There are lots of impactful ways you can get involved in schools. For example, ask your local school or a teacher if you can help as a math, science or English tutor. Some schools allow seniors to read to elementary school-aged children. Or, what about mentoring? If you were an accountant or a journalist, high school students may benefit from your perspective. There may even be a club you can head up, based on your education and career experience. If you love being outdoors, consider becoming a crossing guard—a critical safety position that interacts with lots of people daily. Did you experience a historical event firsthand? Students may gain valuable insights from hearing your unique perspective. 

10. Volunteer with organizations that fuel your passions.

“Organizations with a higher purpose often have fantastic ways to connect with like-minded people and serve your community,” Regos says.

The most common forms of volunteering are fundraising or selling items to raise money; collecting and distributing food; making items, general labor, like cleaning up parks or helping to build homes; and tutoring, teaching, or mentoring, according to the nationalservice.gov. For starters, check out opportunities with YMCA, 4-H, Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity.

Other ways to be in touch

Stay on top of enriching events, groups and other activities by tapping into your community calendar.

  • Community websites or Facebook groups: Many towns, cities or counties maintain easy-to-navigate websites that include calendars of upcoming events or new resources. Bookmark the pages in your browser and check back every few weeks to see what’s new. You can even branch out to check nearby towns’ sites. Plus, lots of towns or other local groups also have Facebook pages where you can sign up for events and receive updates.

  • Local college’s calendar: Most colleges and universities offer plenty of free activities open to the public, such as presentations, student performances, speeches, demonstrations and classes.

  • Parks and recreation department: You’d be surprised at how many programs and special events your town’s parks and recreation department runs. Check out its website or even stop into a local office to get a list of the parks, trails and other facilities your recreation department manages, along with many free or low-cost programs, events and activities.

  • AARP’s volunteer website: If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities, AARP offers some options. For example, AARP suggests helping older drivers stay safe and improve their driving skills and working to end hunger. Check out its volunteer page: Volunteer—Share Your Experience in Your Community.


“Volunteering at an organization that gives back to society connects you with more people, but also adds to your own sense of well-being,” Regos says. “When you get out of the house and help others, you also help yourself.”

Have you made a difference in your community in a unique way? Share your stories with HearingLife by emailing elza@hearinglife.com.

For more information:

4-H

AARP

Bordentown Historical Society

BSA

Girl Scouts

Habitat for Humanity

League of Women Voters

Meals on Wheels

Unhustle

YMCA or YWCA

Don’t Let Mobility Challenges Limit You

If you have limited mobility or use a wheelchair, there are plenty of activities out there for you, too.

“It’s critical to have experiences that aren’t at all limited by mobility, such as stargazing, birdwatching or billiards,” says Katie Krimer, MA, LMSW, a psychotherapist at a New York City-based Union Square Practice. “People can still fully access the experience without emphasizing what they can’t do. Being with others during these activities will help them feel connected and able, thereby increasing self-esteem, bettering mood and impacting self-efficacy.”

Here are three fun activities to try:

Try out nature trails. Many public parks feature accessible trails for wheelchair users. Spending time outdoors picnicking, birdwatching or stargazing in the evening is a great way to activate all the senses.

Shoot some pool. Billiards is considered one of the only sports that almost anyone can play, regardless of their physical ability, according to the National Wheelchair Poolplayers Association. In addition, special cues and other equipment are available if you need them.

Put on your dancing shoes. There are organizations and schools like American Dance Wheels that offer dance lessons, from ballroom to Latin dance. You can attend live classes, but if there aren’t any in your immediate area, you can actually also use Skype to participate with everyone else.