Grandma, Can Volunteers Jump through Hoops?

Emilia and Mina won TimeHeroes' Tireless Spirit awardMom, what does a unicorn eat? Can pigs really fly? Can you walk without a skeleton? Dad, will you watch me jump backwards?

Parents are busy nowadays, and these queries frequently remain unanswered.

Questions are something older individuals don’t often receive. Once they retire, people stop having regular contact with others and are much more likely to experience health problems than people who keep active beyond their employment years. This is why the American Institute of Stress ranks retirement tenth among the 43 most stressful life events. With the proliferation of 24-hour programming on TV, some retirees may even spend days on end without talking to anyone.

The Generations Together foundation works to help both these attention-deprived groups—children and older adults—by connecting them. It places retirees in kindergartens where they read to and play games with preschoolers. Helping take care of the next generation can be a meaningful occupation for older individuals, as it shows them that they still have an important role to play in society. In turn, children benefit from the undivided attention of adults who are not constantly pressed for time or grappling with the pressures of earning a living.

Emilia gets a gift from her preschoolersEmilia Zheleva and Mina Ivanova are in their seventies and live in a residential facility for older individuals in Plovdiv; their families live far away. The two women have spent every Friday over the past year helping out at Valentina Kindergarten in Plovdiv. They read to the children, help with their arts and crafts projects, and interact with them as only grandmothers know how. Their visits to the kindergarten are part of Generations Together’s “Grandma, Tell Me…” initiative, which aims to promote an active lifestyle and volunteering among older individuals. In September 2018, Emilia and Mina received a Tireless Spirit award for their work with children from Time Heroes, Bulgaria’s largest volunteering platform.

A great deal of excitement accompanies the two women’s visits to the kindergarten; children will even compete who will say hello to them first. “Very often, they don’t even get to the fairy tales. The children ask for their attention, so they spend time with them, ask them how they are, if they have brothers and sisters,” says Margarita Gancheva, founder and chairperson of Generations Together.

Their visits have made a huge difference for the educators as well. Teachers have noticed that when they involve Emilia, Mina, and the other volunteers in educational activities, the children grasp things faster.

Senior citizens and volunteersIn return, the women receive meaningful contact with other human beings; they feel important, needed. Emilia, who talks to her own grandchildren only on the phone, says, “The kids give you such energy… They give you the strength to go on.” Naida, another volunteer, who has been visiting the kindergarten for a couple of months, agrees. “The kids charge you so positively. I’d recommend volunteering to anyone,” she adds.

With 46,000 registered volunteers, is the main source of volunteer help for local nonprofits. “It has always been very important for us to be accessible and to involve people in different age groups,” says Nia Kiriakova of Time Heroes. So, to encourage volunteering among older individuals—who constitute a mere 6 percent of the Time Heroes website users—the organization started a telephone service this year that anyone can use to find out about volunteering opportunities in their city.

“I know what I’m going to do when I retire,” says Margarita, of Generations Together. “I will keep busy volunteering.”

Recognizing Time Heroes’ enormous potential to do good in the country, the America for Bulgaria Foundation has supported the platform since 2012.

Photo 1: Mina and Emilia receive TimeHeroes’ Tireless Spirit award. Photo 2: Emilia gets a handmade present from her preschoolers. Photo 3: Volunteers at a residential facility for senior citizens.

Sign Up Here

Never miss a story from ABF.

Sign Up Here

Never miss a story from ABF.