New Retirees "Sing the Praises" of Volunteering
By Denny Dreher, Southern Maine Agency on Aging Healthy Aging Programs
continued from previous page
In the fall of 2006 they responded to a little article in the "Bridgton News" seeking people to be trained to lead "A Matter of Balance." Soon after the training, they shared their initial teaching experience at Unity Gardens in Windham. The Thomases were off and running and haven't stopped since. They not only coach classes; they advertise to recruit participants for the twice yearly classes at the Bridgton Community Center, where they enjoy a supportive relationship, and are now involved in making a video to publicize "A Matter of Balance" to a broader audience. Much of the recruiting has been by word-of-mouth with ex-participants sharing their enthusiasm with others, and a few even returning to repeat the program. Brochures find their way to medical offices, T'ai Chi classes, and even beauty salons.
Meredith and Brian cannot find enough ways to praise the Matter of Balance program and the satisfaction they receive from their volunteer coaching experience. They stress that it isn't what they do, but rather what happens within the class as people interact with the material and with each other that makes it work. "We do it in a lighthearted way, but it is important stuff" and "you can see when something comes together." Meredith admits that even with good groups there can be some challenging opportunities to work on their leadership skills. Every class is unique, and they continually learn from the participants. They have found ways to enhance the basic program through their style and personalities but Meredith insists that "It's really a perfect program." People enjoy the socialization and at the last class don't seem to want to let go of what has been created in the group, so the Thomases are pondering how to respond to this, possibly by a continuing an exercise class such as has been tried elsewhere.
To others considering becoming volunteer coaches for "A Matter of Balance," Meredith offers these comments: "If you are looking to volunteer, it is a good way to go because it has the structure and support you would need and you get so much back. You can learn to be a coach: the program does that. You have the model. If somebody is a little shy, this is a perfect thing. It's like taking baby steps. You will get more out of it than you put into it. It's new every time-same book, but always different. Anything you want to get out of an experience, volunteering for "A Matter of Balance" is the way to go. I can't think of any negatives."
Observers like me would say that the creativity and commitment, which the Thomases have demonstrated in their involvement with "A Matter of Balance," is exceptional and also demonstrates the appealing opportunities for volunteers to bring their personalities and skills to this work. As for Meredith and Brian, they agree with big smiles that "it is nice to work together" in something they both love doing.
The Southern Maine Agency on Aging recently received two grants in support of its Matter of Balance program. The Virginia Hodgkins Somers Foundation awarded $5,000 and the Fisher Charitable Trust awarded $3,000.