“It’s not just that you’re providing value to a client,” Jim Laurenti says. “They provide value to you, too. You can make a huge impact with such a small thing, and people who haven’t seen that are missing out.”
Jim volunteers with Catholic Community Services’ Volunteer Services program, which matches participants over 65 (or over 18 and living with a disability) with volunteers who are able to provide a small chore service such as yardwork, housework, laundry, and other similar need-based requests.
In addition to providing the service he signed up for (yardwork and help with decluttering), Jim has opened several jars for an elderly person with a hand injury, repaired a vacuum that had broken into pieces, encouraged a participant to pare down the amount of boxes in storage and – just by offering his presence in another person’s life – helped motivate someone to begin taking on tasks that were previously a struggle.
“I even had to start discouraging [her] from doing things that were too dangerous for her to be doing – but it’s so good to see that motivation come back.” (He realized she was potentially biting off more than she could chew when she asked him to repair a very wobbly step stool she had started using.)
“Seeing what little you can do to help someone out,” Sue says, “really makes you realize how important health is – and how you really don’t have to do that much to make a big impact in someone’s life.” ~Sue Laurenti, Home Helpers Volunteer
Because of their volunteer work, Jim and Sue Laurenti find it impossible to get bored after retiring. In fact, they excitedly affirm that volunteering makes you a more interesting person, because you’re always learning. For instance, one of Jim’s participants has been tracking things like her electric bill since 1957 – “she has all the paperwork!” he says.
“You really do learn a lot about a person’s life just by signing up to do one thing for them,” Sue says. “You begin to see other ways you could use your skills to help someone.” Sue has begun helping people make better use of their smartphones, for example, teaching them how to text and find useful apps.
Not only do Sue and Jim learn about other ways beyond what they signed up for to support people they are paired with, they also learn about people’s lives. “It’s amazing the history people come through,” Sue says, “and how much of that history is repeated. I help a couple where the woman is in her 70s and the man is in his 90s. Who was president 90 years ago? What was happening in the world then? Things like this are fascinating to learn about.” It also gives her a chance to reflect. “Remembering that they’re just like us – I mean, we’ll be there in 20 or 30 years. Volunteering in this way gives me perspective on what I still want to do in my life.”
Transportation is the most common request Volunteer Services receives. Sue drives people to and from medical appointments. When she was working, she “commuted from Mukilteo to Renton – so a 20-minute drive to an appointment is not a problem. Bring a book while you wait. The best part is that you’ve got this person in your car, so you have a chance to get to know them and combat some of the loneliness so many people are experiencing.”
Recent studies indicate that loneliness is worse for your health than smoking, and that more and more people are experiencing it. Helping members of the community with what feels like small things not only gives Sue and Jim a sense of blessing for their health and abilities, but invites them into people’s lives, which decreases their sense of isolation.
Sue and Jim have a son in the area, but most of their family live in other states; many older people in this area are in the same situation. “Seeing what little you can do to help someone out,” Sue says, “really makes you realize how important health is – and how you really don’t have to do that much to make a big impact in someone’s life.” Giving their time to those who need some extra support to remain independent in their homes is personal for Sue and Jim. “My mom lives alone and needs this kind of help,” Jim says. “I’ve got five siblings that provide the help I can’t. The client I help doesn’t have family around. Her husband has passed, and her kids live far from her.” Sue feels similarly. “My dad lives in South Dakota. I can’t be there to drive him where he needs to go, but I can help someone else in a similar situation.”
Volunteering in some capacity has been a part of the Laurentis’ lives since before they retired. Both originally from South Dakota – both the fourth of nine siblings (four brothers and four sisters each), they met at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology through a friend. Jim got a job as an engineer at Boeing after graduating. After getting married in September of 1985, they moved out to Seattle where they both worked at Boeing and raised their family.
The Laurentis participated in Boeing’s Day of Caring events and other service days throughout their time there. Sue was a United Way Campaign Executive in 1999 as part of Boeing’s initiative that “donates” an employee to a service organization for three months at a time. She has tutored algebra and been involved in volunteer work that supports girls entering the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. She also helped an immigrant get citizenship and recommends that every citizen help someone to become one.
Having an open and inviting home is very important to Sue. “The first thing we do when people walk in is show them where the food, drinks, and plates are. Make yourself at home! We just open the door – don’t mind the mess, you know. Coming from a big family, you just don’t worry about that sort of thing, and most people don’t notice it anyway. Just come on in. We’ve always been that way.”
When Sue was a tutor at Literacy Source, she found out about RSVP. She took Jim to the information session on becoming a Home Helpers volunteer, and they’ve been volunteering there for nearly a year. Jim retired from Boeing in 2016 after 31 years, Sue in 2017 after nearly 32 years. “People who have worked their whole lives don’t feel comfortable making yet another commitment,” Sue says. “That might be a barrier to volunteering. You finally have the freedom to do what you want and you don’t want to lock yourself into a schedule again. But volunteer organizations don’t ask for a 20- or 30-year commitment.”
“Start volunteering, if you can, before you retire. Start building a social network before you lose the one your work provides you … There is always somewhere to plug in. There are so many people close to the bottom. There is always a way to help.” ~Sue Laurenti, Home Helpers Volunteer
Volunteer Services is particularly amenable to retirees looking for schedule flexibility. “You can sign up for a time that you want and a chore you want to do. It’s all online and up to your discretion.” Sue addresses another reason people might possibly be reluctant to get involved: energy. “Almost every time I go, I feel like I might be too tired, but then, after I get home, I feel so good that I went. I never regret it. You never feel bad about volunteering.”And, because it’s about the relationship volunteers build with participants, volunteers are not locked into rigid expectations that would impede their ability to also enjoy retirement.
“Start volunteering, if you can, before you retire,” she says. “Start building a social network before you lose the one your work provides you. Volunteering exposes you to people outside of your own age bracket, which is helpful as you age and start losing people. There is always somewhere to plug in. There are so many people close to the bottom. There is always a way to help.”Sue’s passion for volunteering extends beyond being able to give and receive value and benefit with those in her community who need a bit of extra support; she says you also learn a lot about what’s going on in your community. “You learn about resources that you can offer the next time you hear about someone having an issue. You become more aware of what’s actually happening and why.” She encourages everyone to get involved, especially since there are so many ways to do so.
More volunteers are needed for this priority area! For more information on becoming a Home Helper, please contact Megan Wildhood at 206.694.6786 or firstname.lastname@example.org.