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
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
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
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
Back to Career Cluster
Check out the many ways to be a volunteer