This is a guest blog post from Reed Sandridge. Sandridge lost his job in 2009 and did the unthinkable – he started giving away $10 a day to complete strangers! He captured the story of every recipient at www.yearofgiving.org. A frequent writer and speaker on volunteering and micro-philanthropy, Sandridge lives in our nation’s capital.
In my last article I shared a little bit of my recent trip to Ireland. It was my kind of trip. I was able to combine some leisurely travel around the lush green Emerald Isle with some volunteering. While I was in Dublin, the European Union’s (EU) roadshow on volunteering was there and I got to help out with the event. It’s all part of the EU’s year-long focus on volunteering. The five day event had a different theme each day. It was my luck to be able to volunteer on the day that focused on organizations working with older Irish citizens.
Later in the day I had some free time to speak with some of the organizations at the fair. I sat down for coffee with Eamon Timmins, the head of advocacy and communications for Age Action – an Irish nonprofit that promotes positive ageing and better policies and services for older people. I particularly liked their statement on their website that says that they are aiming “to make Ireland the best place in the world in which to grow older.”
Timmins, who spent 19 years as a journalist, is a charismatic Irishman who does a superb job of getting me up to speed with the major issues facing older individuals in Ireland. Like an experienced surgeon, he hones in on the cancers threatening the nearly 500,000 people in Ireland who are over the age of 65. Backed up by an eight page briefing report that he provided me, he deftly covers about a dozen issues.
“Rural transportation is a big issue,” Timmins says leaning forward in his chair reminding me that it’s not just about healthcare and pensions. “The majority of older people live in urban areas, yet in comparison to any other age group there are higher proportions of older people living in rural areas.” Until now the Republic of Ireland has enjoyed a good public transportation system in rural areas, however, it seems that budget constraints might put this in jeopardy. And it’s not just where they live that creates challenges; it’s also the type of housing that they live in.
“49.4% of people aged 65 and over live in homes built prior to 1960. Many of these are poorly insulated,” Timmins explains. Although Ireland doesn’t experience winters as harsh as northern parts of the U.S., it does get quite cold during the winter requiring people to heat their homes a considerable amount. With many older people living on limited income, they are faced with having to choose between food and fuel. This all too often results in fuel poverty where older people will not heat their homes. “The most recent data shows an excess winter death rate (summer deaths minus winter deaths) of between 1,500 and 2,000,” Timmins adds.
Across the aisle from the Timmins and his team was Age & Opportunity, an organization that promotes opportunities for greater participation by older people in Ireland. They have several programs focused on getting older individuals more active. “In any given week 30,000 older people are involved in sports or physical activity as a direct result of Go for Life,” Richard Farrell, the organization’s National Development Officer, said about one of their popular initiatives.
Meanwhile down the hall in one of the workshops, volunteers from Barnardos’ Wizards of Words program were sharing their innovative school-based reading initiative which pairs children with volunteers aged 55+. “This does more than just help the children read better,” explained a volunteer from Dublin, “an unexpected, but welcomed, outcome is the way in which children come to trust us wizards; they treat us as friends.”
There were several other organizations represented at the fair too. The beauty of many of these organizations is that they don’t just help ensure that older individuals in Ireland have the public services and financial and health security that they need, but they also provide employment and volunteer opportunities for the older population segment. This is important in country where according to the National Council on Ageing and Older People 70% of people aged 55-69 years would prefer to retire more gradually than is the current norm and 26% of those not employed would like to take up work.
On my flight home, I couldn’t stop thinking about something that Timmins shared with me. He told me about Nuala Earley, an Age Action member from Drogheda, County Louth. In an interview she was once asked what one request she would make to Ireland’s Minister of Finance. She replied, “Recognition — recognition that I am an older person and I have specific needs because of my age. He is not an older person and so he may not know what those needs are. I am asking him for recognition.” Like Ireland’s Minister of Finance, I too am not an older person and need to be reminded of this from time to time.
Thank you, Ms. Earley.
Photo credit by Reed Sandridge
Miss a post by Sandridge?
Post 8: Are you a Philanthropist? Maybe
Post 11: A World without Volunteers