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New ways to encourage

A few weeks ago, United Way, along with the Greater Nashua Food Council and Southern New Hampshire Health, put together a brunch event for seniors to explore new and engaging volunteer opportunities in our community. The truth is, we have an aging population, and it’s VERY important to keep people engaged, connected, and active. We do this in order to improve health outcomes. We also do so because there are a great many nonprofits in our community which can benefit tremendously by creatively working with our seniors and retirees to get more work done. This type of volunteering can be one of the most potent win-win scenarios available today: seniors and retirees win because they find productive and creative outlets for their skills and energy; nonprofits and the community win, because work can get done which improves the health, education, and financial stability of every person, which is – not coincidentally – the mission of United Way. What I wanted to share with you today are the opening remarks I made to this group of about 70 retirees, soon to be retirees, and other seniors interested in getting involved with volunteering:

“Good morning. What a great turnout! We are excited to be having this time with you today to discuss how we can all be as engaged as possible in our communities in our retirement years.

My name is Mike Apfelberg, and I’m the President of United Way of Greater Nashua. I know that my colleagues here, Jessica and Sara, are going to be thanking our sponsors and supporters, but I would like to take a moment to thank the two of them for doing the hard work of organizing today’s event. Admittedly, these two are a very long way away from being retiree’s, but when we started discussing ways to get more people involved, and why, they immediately grasped the need and, with youthful enthusiasm ran with it. Simply put, we wouldn’t be here today without their efforts, so thank you Sara, and thank you Jessica!

So why are we here today? I think this is an important question to ask ourselves. Is it to meet somebody new? Possibly. Is it to break bread and have a meal? Hopefully. Is it to get out of the house on a rainy Thursday morning and break up the monotony? Could be.

For me, and for us at United Way, the reason why we’ve been talking about getting and keeping retirees engaged in our community, has a profound connection to something which we call the “social determinants of health.” There is a growing body of evidence which states that a very large portion of our health outcomes… how healthy we are… how long we live… and how well we live… perhaps as much as 40-50%, have nothing at all to do with our doctors, our medicines, and our surgeries, but rather with our connectedness to one another, our access to engaging lifestyles, and our friendships. Of course, if you have an illness or a disease, you will probably need medical care. But the prevention of that same illness or disease, could be found in giving ourselves as people the space to be with one another to discuss, laugh, and love.

This factor, social determinants of health, is even more profound in a community like the one we live in in Southern New Hampshire. Demographically, we happen to live in a state which is now the 3rd most elderly in the country. We have more elderly than Arizona… more than Nevada… more even than Florida. In fact, the only two states with more elderly are Maine and Vermont. Of course, there are many reasons for this, but for me the reasons are not important… what is important is that fact that we have an aging community with more seniors every year. And with seniors, social determinants are even more profound, because seniors can easily become isolated as families move away or friends pass way….. and that is why we are here today!

We are here to talk about one of the best and most effective ways to combat isolation and disconnectedness: giving back and volunteering.

Today we will explore many ways to do this… and we will probably come up with new ways as well. Interestingly enough, at least at United Way, while we might have projects and programs for you to plug into right away, for us it’s the act itself which matters, so if we come up with entirely new programs and projects for people to get involved and stay connected, that is ok. In other words, we want to make sure that we create a context for volunteering, since that in and of itself is the preventive antidote we seek. Hopefully we’ll come up with some great new ways to do that today, along with having a meal, meeting somebody new, and getting out of the gloomy rain.

Thank you again for being here today and please enjoy the program!”

It was a wonderful brunch with fabulous and interesting conversations. I met several new people and learned a lot about what is important to them. We went on to have presentations by a number of organizations and agencies that work regularly with volunteers, including not just United Way, but also the Food Council, the Hillsboro County Gleaners, Grow Nashua, Southern New Hampshire Services and their RSVP program, and Southern New Hampshire Health. We also talked about our volunteergreaternashua.org web portal for volunteering, in partnership with the Nashua Telegraph. I left the event hopeful and inspired. It is often said of children and students that the future is bright when they are doing well, and that is true, but it can equally be said that the future is very bright, when we find ways to tap into the potential of our seniors. Thank you to all of you who came and all of you who give back to our community, because GREAT THINGS HAPPEN WHEN WE LIVE UNITED.

Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.