Hanneke is one of the volunteers who make the support given to seniors by the Central Vermont Council on Aging possible. Like the support she provides, Hanneke is humble and unassuming. But once she started talking about her visits with the seniors she volunteers with, she started to glow.
Hanneke is a recent transplant to Central Vermont from the Northwest. At first, she found the transition to her rural Vermont home isolating and she missed the bustle of a more urban area and the community she had left behind. To help overcome that sense of isolation, she began to look for ways that she could connect to the community here and use her skills and interests to help her build a new community in Central Vermont. That’s when she found the Central Vermont Council on Aging’s direct service volunteer program to help match community volunteers with seniors. Volunteers help seniors throughout Central Vermont by offering companionship to an older person, offering respite to caregivers, assisting with household chores, grocery shopping, organizing, and regular activities that help to elders stay in their homes and remain independent.
In her professional life Hanneke works as an Occupational Therapy Assistant and she already knew she loved working with older folks and seniors. Through her work she helps seniors become more independent in their daily routines like getting dressed and making meals, and increasing their strength and endurance to decrease fall risks all to help them live as independently as possible. She loves the part of her job that involves working directly with people to help them improve their lives, stay in their homes, and stay independent. It came as no surprise that she chose to help the seniors in her community achieve the same goals – stay in their homes, remain independent, and stay healthy – as her volunteer “job”.
Hanneke views her role as an extension of being a member of the community. Listening to her talk, I came to understand fully how she feels not only about her volunteer work but about her philosophy in general.
“I have the time to give, so why wouldn’t I volunteer to help others?” is the way that I can best paraphrase her response when I asked her “what motivates you to volunteer?”.
To Hanneke, it was a matter of course that she would give her time to help others and she seemed surprised that it was being celebrated as something unique – this is simply part of who Hanneke is and how she lives her life, both personally and professionally.
As a volunteer, she loves to help people outside, especially those who love to garden but may not be as able to do the heavy lifting required to keep a garden as they have in the past. Last summer she embarked on a project with one of the seniors she volunteers with. In the beginning, Hanneke was unsure how far they would get or how much they could accomplish. As they worked together preparing beds, plants and soil, she could see the woman she was working with light up and the more they did over the course of weeks, the more it seemed she could do! In the end, they planted tomatoes, built trellises from large sticks and stakes they harvested from the woods, watched those tomatoes grow, and harvested them together. Completing the cycle was both emotionally rewarding and delicious.
As she told me that story, I began to wonder who had received more joy from the process, Hanneke or the senior she was assisting? Hanneke truly demonstrates that fact that volunteers often get as much joy as they give!
CVCOA volunteers can help their older neighbors remain in their homes and connected to their communities by providing rides to appointments, assisting with grocery shopping, or other small tasks. Sometimes it’s as simple as a friendly visit. For more information, visit https://www.cvcoa.org/volunteering.html or call our Volunteer Coordinator at 476-0151.
The Volunteer of the Month is a feature compiled by the Green Mountain United Way, focusing on the contributions of local volunteers whose work benefits local nonprofit organizations in Green Mountain United Way’s service territory. This article was originally published in the Times Argus on May 30, 2018.