Across Ocala and Marion County, seniors are stepping up to volunteer their time and talents to deserving institutions, organizations and businesses, and as a result are helping to improve the quality of life for all residents of our community.
Out at the Appleton Museum, for instance, volunteers are a “tremendous help,” says Dr. John Lofgren, the museum’s director. “We would not be able to attempt to do all the programming we do here without the support and help of our volunteers.”
Currently, the museum counts 81 individuals in its volunteer program, and one of them—Brenda Lytle—was recently singled out for her contributions when she received the Outstanding Volunteer 2011 Award from the Florida Association of Museums. The award certainly seems appropriate, since Lytle has served 3,763 volunteer hours since she started working at the museum during the Princess Diana exhibition in 2007.
Lytle says she started volunteering at the Appleton for a specific reason. “It’s because I don’t want to get old,” she says. “I’ve seen too many friends who have retired, gone home and thought, ‘This is it—I don’t have to do anything else.’ But shortly after that they became very unhappy, very dissatisfied with life, and I didn’t want that to happen to me.”
Lytle now volunteers at the museum three times a week, and currently is deeply involved with the museum’s exhibition of “Katherine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen,” which opens to the public on Nov. 19. In fact, she went above and beyond the call of duty by traveling, on her own dime, to Kent State University in Ohio to preview the exhibition and gather information prior to its opening here in Ocala.
It’s this kind of dedication that impresses everyone she works with. "I drive 30 miles a day to get here, round trip, and I could choose to do anything else I wanted to, but this is my choice, mainly because I feel like I’m productive.”
Staying productive, staying young, helping others, giving back to the community, being part of something important—these are just some of the reasons seniors are volunteering in Ocala and Marion County. Every day, these individuals are helping out in medical facilities and homeless shelters, in schools and libraries, in courtrooms and offices, and with the community’s charitable and non-profit organizations, all of which greatly need and welcome the help.
The opportunities are numerous. The College of Central Florida’s RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program), for example, says it has an immediate need for female veterans willing to serve as short-term career coaches for women participating in the CF Retooling and Refueling veteran’s program. The RSVP program also seeks volunteers to work with the homeless, with pre-school aged children and with veteran and military families, as well as with energy conservation efforts and health services.
The RSVP program posts volunteer opportunities on a website called VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org). Seniors who have access to a computer can check the site to view current openings. Recent opportunities included mentoring high school students, leading activities for young children, bookkeeping and clerical work, working with horticulture and greenhouse operations, serving as tour guides and on boat crews to teach children about the environment, helping with hunger relief and working as horse handlers for disabled children. (For information: 352-291-4444 or http://pathways.cf.edu/rsvp/.)
Beyond that, volunteer opportunities are available in just about every industry in the county. Here are a few examples:
• The Florida Horse Park seeks volunteers to help with horse inspection, dressage, judging and timing, as well as at the gate and in the arena. (For information: 352-307-6699 or www.flhorsepark.com.)
• Munroe Regional Medical Center, which currently has 1,600 volunteers working in 60 different areas, needs volunteers to handle information calls, deliver floral arrangements to patients, escort visitors and families, and staff health fairs and presentations, among many other tasks. (352-671-2153 or www.munroeregional.com.)
• The City of Ocala Recreation and Parks Departments is able to provide leisure services to the community thanks to the assistance of more than 200 volunteers, who help with teaching, grounds maintenance, program implementation and more. (352-368-5517 or www.ocalafl.org.)
• The American Red Cross in Marion County seeks volunteers to assist with temporary housing, clothing, finances and emotional support for victims of disasters.
• The Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce is seeking volunteers to help with clerical duties, such as making copies, answering phones and preparing mailings. (352-622-3457 or www.midfloridaredcross.org.)
Local charities and non-profits depend almost solely on the help of volunteers to succeed. The Marion County Children’s Alliance, the United Way of Marion County, Habitat for Humanity, the Marion County Literary Council, Special Olympics of Marion County and many more organizations thrive in our community because of volunteers.
Want to give a shout out to a local volunteer who deserves special recognition? Sound off in the comments section below.