Shawn Maloy, DDS, a Littleton dentist, gave Beda Maya Gautam, a Bhutanese refugee, new reasons to smile after she was guided to reduced-cost restorative dental care by a volunteer for Boomers Leading Change in Health at the Spring Institute for Cultural Learning.
Volunteering is Booming Among Boomers
By Sandy Graham
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of occasional updates Health Elevations will offer about topics and programs it has covered. In the Winter 2011 issue, Health Elevations profiled Boomers Leading Change in Health, an organization dedicated to harnessing the energies of the baby boom generation to volunteer in health care navigation, community health work and health advocacy.
When the founders of Boomers Leading Change in Health decided in 2009 to focus on health care, they knew they had chosen an issue that was both intensely difficult and critically important.
"Everybody is challenged by health care and many are confused by it," says Barbara Raynor, managing director of Boomers Leading Change in Health. "That makes the work we're doing more challenging, but more exciting, too."
Boomers set out to train volunteers, age 50 and older, to be health care navigators, guiding individuals receiving health treatment; community health workers, counseling and educating individuals about health; and policy advocates, speaking out about health issues in public forums.
"We've expanded beyond that," Raynor says. Volunteers advocate, educate and navigate, but also coach people transitioning between care levels (such as hospital to home), teach chronic disease self-management and help people enroll in public assistance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Boomers Leading Change in Health is one of nine community programs nationwide that makes up the Community Experience Partnership established by The Atlantic Philanthropies to promote the idea that adults over age 50 have much to contribute to society as they approach traditional retirement age and beyond. Denver's program is the only one addressing health care. It has received local funding from Rose Community Foundation, a partnership member; the Colorado Health Foundation; and other supporters.
Since July 2010, the organization has recruited 250 volunteers, Raynor says. About 150 of them have been fully trained and are working among 11 Denver-area sites, up from six sites when the project began. Boomers Leading Change in Health has also received a grant from Serve Colorado to recruit, train and place about 24 adults, 55 and older, in positions paying stipends through AmeriCorps, the national service program.
While volunteers are working to improve the health of others, they're also improving their own health, Raynor adds. Numerous studies have concluded that giving back is good for the health of older volunteers, even more so than younger volunteers.
"There's a direct connection between the act of volunteering and living a longer, healthier, more active life, especially if you're older," Raynor says.