We hear it all the time, “I would love to mentor a child, but I think I am too old”. Not only is this a misconception, but it is a missed opportunity for both the volunteer and the community. That is why at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Illinois we are always working to spread the message that you are never too old to volunteer. In fact, volunteering later in life is good for both you and the community.
Study after study shows that older volunteers live longer and experience better physical and mental health. They report feeling happier and having a deeper life’s purpose. Volunteers over 50 also accomplish a lot. Most people in this age group are in a stable place in their career or even retired, and have older children living out of the home. With extra time, older adults can dedicate more of themselves to community work. In fact, adults over the age of 65 log on average 94 hours per year per person!
At Big Brothers Big Sisters, the success of our mission is tied directly to how well we engage with the community and drive quality volunteers into the organization. And, year after year, our older adult volunteer mentors are consistently the strongest, longest and most impactful volunteers for our youth. With more life experiences, there is wisdom and knowledge to share. In mentoring specifically, a larger social network translates into more opportunities to ignite and empower the potential of children from vulnerable backgrounds.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Below is a message from Little Sister Erykah about her experience being mentored by a volunteer over 50, Big Sister Jeanine.
“As a former Little, I can’t emphasize enough that mentoring a Little isn’t little at all. You are embarking on such a special journey. You are opening up your life to change and be changed by your Little. This journey is more amazing and impactful than I can put into words.
At six years old, I was shy and quiet, struggling to fit in at school and home. There were few opportunities for success in my community and my view of the world was smaller than you could imagine. When my mom decided to enroll me in Big Brothers Big Sisters, the thought of spending time with a stranger was terrifying. That stranger turned out to be one of the most supportive and inspiring women I have had the pleasure to know.
My Big Jeanine, worked tirelessly to gain my trust. Her unwavering commitment allowed me to believe in myself and gain the confidence needed to make my own space in this world. She has been my rock, walking at my side for many of life’s transitions. Some of the best parts of me are developed and influenced by Jeanine.
Nineteen years later and Jeanine is still my go-to. We always say that we aged out of the program but never out of each other’s lives. We regularly call and text; I still visit and travel with her. She will even dance at my wedding in September. I am beyond blessed to call Jeanine my confidant and friend.
Jeanine’s willingness to shine her light to illuminate the dark spaces in my life has had a profound effect. Now it is your turn. Become a Big and light up the lives of the future.”
Heather Freed, LCSW
President & CEO