First class starts for Give 5 volunteers

Mar. 18—Twelve retirees interested in discovering a new avocation make up the first class of Give 5 participants to enroll in the new volunteerism program offered by the United Way and the Area Agency on Aging.

The two organizations announced in February the launch of the program, aimed at recruiting people to fill a growing need for skilled volunteers and volunteer leadership.

"Give 5 is a civic matchmaking program that connects current and soon-to-be retirees age 55 and better with meaningful volunteer opportunities that best fit their skill sets and passions," said Duane Dreiling, executive director of the United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas.

Those volunteers will have their choice of places to work from among 23 nonprofits and charities, schools, and public service.

They started their quest on Wednesday on a bus tour that took them to visit and learn about three organizations that have volunteer opportunities available. The group will continue to make weekly Wednesday visits until they have visited all 23, Dreiling said.

Organizations participating range from Jasper County CASA to Spiva Center for the Arts, Wildcat Glades, the Boys & Girls Club, Community Clinic, Bright Futures, and others.

"There are nonprofits who serve children, families, babies, older adults and everything in between," said Jennifer Shotwell, chief executive officer for the Area Agency on Aging-Region X.

"We really focused it around agencies that work on social determinants of health," Dreiling said.

Shotwell said the tours help the volunteers "do some self-reflection and decide what is a good fit," whether it's something related to the person's career or an entirely different experience.

For instance, the volunteers learned that in working with Jasper County CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, they become advocates for children who are living in the foster care system. They get to know the children whom they are to represent, observe their relationships with their families and in school, and speak on behalf of the children on the best home for them.

Shana Ashley, a former teacher who also had once worked with developmentally disabled children, was one of those who joined Give 5. She has been retired 10 years.

"I wanted to get involved because there were so many things to learn and it looked like there are so many opportunities I wasn't even aware of," she said.

"It was brought to our attention by the Area Agency on Aging and they are very encouraging to keep us active and keep us out there motivated," Ashley said.

Debbie Miller is a Carthage native who spent her career in California where she worked in the courts before retiring. She and her husband have returned to the area and live in Webb City.

"I've been looking for places to volunteer but many times you call and they don't have anything," she said. "I don't know if they are too busy" to talk about what needs there may be or if they are not aware of what type of assistance could be helpful.

"When I found out about this program I thought 'I'm going to apply for it.' Learning more about it today I thought 'this is going to help me find someplace where I can give back to the community.'"