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Volunteer Visitor

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Imagine never stepping outside your own front door. Think of how it would feel to be confined to your bed without anyone ever coming to talk to you. If that sounds like punishment to you, you're wrong. For many people, it's just a fact of life.

Thousands of people will never leave their home this year. They are shut-in due to illnesses or other disabilities that make it impossible for them to leave their home.

Volunteer visitors are people who spend time with people that are homebound or shut-in. Volunteer visitors may visit elderly people in nursing homes. They may spend time with juvenile prisoners. Or they may spend time with people with disabilities who cannot leave their home.

A volunteer visitor spends time talking or doing crafts or other activities with someone who may not get any other human contact because of their condition. Volunteers visit once or more a week for a few minutes or a few hours.

"It's nice to get to know older people," says Sherri Wallace. She volunteers through her church in Tucson, Arizona. "They have unique stories that you won't hear unless you spent time with them. It also taught me compassion for the elderly."

Of course, seniors are not the only people who are shut-in. Anyone can be confined to his or her home due to illness or accident. Even juvenile offenders often need visitors because their families can't or won't come to see them. Everybody needs to have contact with other people on occasion.

Almost every city has a program such as Meals on Wheels or Little Brothers that needs volunteers to visit with shut-ins. Even in cities where there is no such program, there is usually a nursing home that would be thrilled to have volunteers come in and spend time with residents.

Kenneth Wilson volunteers to visit with nursing home residents. "It's interesting to see estranged family members united," he says. "And the strangest would have to be the frustration that you experience when you can't help someone."

Though he can't always help with their pain or frustrations, Wilson is able to help with their loneliness. "I read books or newspapers to them or accompany them on walks, take them to the doctor or even go to the drugstore for their medicine," he says.

"I get personal satisfaction from doing it. I would highly recommend doing it, because you might like [the same service] when you get older."

Anne Marie Gray-Trudelle volunteers at the Scugog Community Care Center. She says learning is one of the greatest benefits she's gotten from volunteering to visit with shut-ins. "You think you'll be teaching them so much," she says. "WRONG! It's the other way around."

Gray-Trudelle has one particular person she enjoys visiting. "One female client is an avid reader. I always bring her the latest rags because she likes the tabloids. It's hilarious! And it makes her day."

For Gray-Trudelle, volunteering to visit has plenty of benefits. "It makes you a better person," she says. "And someone might be doing the same thing for you or for someone you love one day."

Cynthia Stacy is the agency relations manager for the Volunteer Center of Dallas County in Dallas, Texas. She says most agencies couldn't function without volunteers. "Volunteers extend the reach of the agency. They allow agencies to have programs, like visiting programs, that the agency couldn't otherwise afford," she says.

"And volunteering to visit with someone who is shut-in gets you out of your own neighborhood. It gives you a better perspective on the world and broadens your horizons. And you make friends."

The only special skills that are necessary, says Stacy, is that "you need to be comfortable one-on-one with someone who might be incapacitated or with someone who may be suffering from dementia. Choose to visit with a group of people that you have a special affinity for."

How to Get Involved

Becoming a volunteer visitor is as easy as going to your nearest nursing home and asking if they need help. For those who aren't comfortable with seniors, other options are your local Red Cross, Little Brothers Organization or United Way, just to name a few.

Any organization that coordinates volunteers will likely have listings of availability for volunteer visitors. And in most cases, no special training is necessary.

However, some organizations may ask that you go through orientation or classes to learn how to communicate with and best help the people you will visit. "Before you begin volunteering or even when you are thinking about it," suggests Stacy, "contact the agency you would like to work through and ask to sit in on their orientation." It helps to ensure you've chosen the right volunteer opportunity, she says.

The only cost usually associated with volunteer visiting is the travel to and from the person that you will be visiting. In most cases, that is not reimbursed by the organization. Also, the age requirement is usually 16 or older, though in some cases organizations welcome the services of younger volunteers.

Here are some organizations that can help you get started:


Little Brothers -- Friends of the Elderly

United Way of America


Points of Light Foundation
This organization operates programs across the U.S. You can learn more about this organization -- including its older adult visiting program -- on its Web site

Volunteer Match Associationn
Find a volunteer assignment that is right for you

Volunteer Opportunities
Check out the many ways to be a volunteer

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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.