Volunteering a positive for everyone involved

Grace LaValley may not have seen it coming, but the folks at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans might have.

The 86-year-old woman has been volunteering at the state-run facility for over two decades, and last month she was recognized for that service by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Community Service Commission.

LaValley is a recipient of the 2019 Senior Volunteer of the Year Governor’s Service Award. The governor’s awards, which were announced last month, were given out to 43 “individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations that were selected for their commitment to volunteerism, service or philanthropy,” a press release states. LaValley was among seven to receive the recognition in the senior category.

She has logged nearly 5,000 volunteer hours at the Jacobetti home where she serves veterans in all sorts of ways, from helping run bingo games to providing a sense of camaraderie by simply sitting and visiting.

She was first introduced to the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in 1998, alongside her veteran husband, Wilbert, according to a description of LaValley posted on the service commission’s website. The couple began volunteering together once they took notice of the tremendous need at the center and knew they had a chance to make a true difference.

When Wilbert had a stroke in 2005 and later passed away, her commitment to volunteering didn’t falter. To LaValley, it was a way to help others and also to keep herself busy, she told Staff Writer Cecilia Brown for a recent article in The Mining Journal.

“I keep busy, that’s what keeps me going is knowing that day when I get up, I have someplace to go and someplace to do things and somebody that needs a little help,” she said.

LaValley is a shining example of what one can aspire to during the sunset years of our lives. Rather than letting the tragic death of her husband turn her into a recluse, she continued to remain involved in the community by helping others and maintaining vibrant relationships with the folks at the Jacobetti home.

And those connections and social relationships are so very important, for everyone, but particularly our senior citizens.

After you’ve worked for decades and decide to leave your career, taking it easy for the remainder of your life probably sounds pretty good. Retirement is like a big vacation, you’d think. But the truth for many is those relationships with coworkers and the routine of interacting with others throughout the week is often a way to stimulate your brain and to stay engaged mentally and physically. The loss of that can oftentimes lead to feelings of isolation, depression and potentially dementia, especially for those living by themselves.

A post on the Mayo Clinic’s website highlights one benefit of volunteering: “Volunteering decreases the risk of depression. Research has shown that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression, especially for individuals 65 and older. Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common interests – both of which have been shown to decrease depression.”

Volunteering, the Mayo Clinic site states, also provides physical and mental benefits among adults ages 60 and up, with volunteers reporting better physical health, greater increase in life satisfaction and greater positive changes in their perceived health due to volunteering than their less benevolent counterparts.

Moreover, volunteering can reduce stress levels, help you develop new relationships with others and may even help you live longer.

“An analysis of data from Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health. In addition, several studies have shown that volunteers with chronic or serious illness experience declines in pain intensity and depression when serving as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain,” according to the website.

The Jacobetti Home for Veterans is just one place locally that relies so much on the kindness of volunteers. There are a bunch of different organizations and places to devote your time while also doing something positive for your mental and physical health.

For the older readers out there, consider reaching out to the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program of Marquette County. Visit the website at https://bit.ly/2YLRxXT online, or call 906-315-2658 or 906-315-2607 for more information.