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In the Know: Opportunities abound for retirees

One of the most rapidly growing nonprofits nationally is called Men’s Shed – groups organized to give retired men projects of value.

EP In The Know
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By Kathryn LeBrasseur, Alexandria, MN

Recently, the Douglas County Fair Board recognized seven of our county residents as Outstanding Senior Volunteers. They were honors definitely deserved! However, many aren’t aware of the tremendous numbers of senior volunteers we have as neighbors and friends who perform volunteer services.

They may mow an elderly neighbor’s yard or pick up the mail for a neighbor unable to get to the post office or deliver meals to the homebound. They might open and close the town hall for the kids to play basketball. The ways they help us are unlimited and they do it because they care.

Regrettably turning 60 and enrolling in Medicare does not solve all the needs of living as the TV ads would promise. We have a tremendous number of the over-60 crowd who worked all their lives. The majority in those days did not belong to unions or big industry and thus did not have retirement programs or funds. They are living in homes that need repair or they need services they cannot afford or don’t have the transportation to receive services.

Yet, Douglas County and other nearby rural counties are the areas most highly sought to retire to. How do they survive? With the help of neighbors. Oh, there are some programs that coordinate volunteers such as Ready-Ride, Chore Service, Elder Network.

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But we fortunately have a great, unorganized source of manpower today. They have skills and time and need to do volunteer work to fill their time. These people become bored and grow tired of watching TV or just taking a healthy walk. Interestingly, nationwide this has become an identified problem, especially for men.

I know that sounds silly to you still actively employed and working. Free time would be a gift. However, it doesn’t seem to do much for the self-esteem of others. One of the most rapidly growing nonprofits nationally is called Men’s Shed – groups organized to give retired men projects of value to donate as much or as little of their time as they wish. It also fills the need to socialize that they got at work.

Not actually functioning under the title of Men’s Shed, we have several examples of how this works. Car Care welcomes men interested in working on cars for others even if they have no skills. They are taught what they have to know. Habitat for Humanity will teach you some carpentry or painting skills among others to help people have homes. Elder Network and the DC Library will be thrilled to have your computer skills to help others with taxes, filling in forms, having a good visit. Schools need volunteer assistant coaches to help all ages in playground and sports.

They claim we women have the best of worlds in this area. We are used to gathering for coffee and socializing. We are used to helping at the schools and church. Fundraisers are a part of our lives as we help our kids participate in 4H and scouts. Having a group to play cards or do crafts with is second nature to us.

Now, many have to be concerned with how to get the man out of the house and happily involved. There are places to turn for help in suggesting and offering programs to fit our skills.The ministers know of persons in need. The United Way of Pope-Douglas has lists of nonprofits and who is doing what. LOVE INC is an organization of 33 churches in our area who need help in helping each other locally. West Central Minnesota Community Action needs help with drivers to help those in need of rides and Chore Services to help some old lady change her light bulbs. Opportunities exist and the above are a starting point with telephone numbers or on computer search programs. Better yet – talk to a couple of friends, guys or gals, and get together to see what you can do. Decide where there is a need for you and socialize while doing it. Areas of need will come out of conversation and shared experiences.

Yes, I am a Pollyanna! Developed that from living here. Working together, we have made our area of rural Minnesota the best. It’s the spirit of giving and sharing that enriches it. Many thanks to all our senior volunteers! We need you and interestingly you need to help us to fulfill your needs of contributing to the community. Just look around your town. Bet you will be surprised at the number of people you know who are volunteering to make life special.

Kathryn LeBrasseur is a former executive director of the Alexandria Senior Center and has been involved in a variety of community organizations, many focusing on senior issues. “In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

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