Anyone who spends more than a few minutes at an Asbury community might start to wonder if the “A” in Asbury actually stands for altruism. Maybe it’s in the water, maybe it’s some shared genetic coding that draws givers to Asbury. Either way, their desire to help others provides countless benefits for people living inside – and outside – the community.
But did you know that helping others has been scientifically proven to help you, too? In 2012, a researcher at Stony Brook University School of Medicine reviewed more than 50 studies involving the effects of helping others and found that those who were sincerely altruistic were happier, healthier and in some cases, even had longer life spans. “. …The benefits of giving is extremely powerful, to the point that suggests healthcare professionals should consider recommending such activities to patients,” said Stephen Post, in an interview with United Press International.
Post’s findings mimicked those of a 2003 study of 2,000 churchgoers that showed people who provided support to others had better mental health than those who only received such help, as long as they didn’t overextend themselves.
Residents literally spend thousands of hours each year volunteering both within their community and in area organizations. While they are typically quick to deflect attention from their good works, ask the executive director of any community in the Asbury system of retirement communities about their impact and they will tell you that it is incalculable.
Phyllis Schweizer was honored in March 2015 for the incredible impact she has made during her 18 years as a resident. In a short time, Phyllis’s can-do spirit made her part of the community’s fabric.
“I don’t know if Phyllis sleeps that much because I always see her out and about!” says Brian Grundusky, Bethany Village’s administrator of health services. “She puts significant effort into making Bethany Village a great place to be. She’s there for everyone!”
Just four months after she moved in, Phyllis was asked to run for a seat on the Residents’ Council because she had gotten to know people so quickly. A former real estate agent, Phyllis is a self-acknowledged people person. But she attributes her rapid integration into the Bethany Village culture primarily to her volunteer work, and she continues to encourage others to volunteer. “Sharing yourself makes you feel you are part of the community, and you get acquainted so much better! It can be something little; people always need help.”
Each year, Phyllis logs 300 volunteer hours at Bethany Village’s MapleWood Assisted Living and The Oaks Skilled Nursing. She also helped establish the community’s annual carnival, which supports Benevolent Care for residents, served on Boards for Bethany and the Asbury Foundation, and co-chaired the community’s Memory Support Neighborhood, Care Assurance Endowment and West Campus fundraising campaigns.
Marjorie Podolsky has put her career as an English professor to work both within and without Springhill, an Erie, Pa.-based retirement community. She works with the Erie Neighborhood Art House weekly, volunteering with an after-school tutoring program for children living in poverty.
“Please don’t make me sound like a saint,” she says. “You never know what the results of your work are going to be, but I feel I get a great deal more than I give.”
Several years ago, Marjorie started a Writer’s Workshop group at Springhill. That, in particular, has been a pleasant surprise, she says, and has led to some interesting friendships. All told, Marjorie estimates that she spends about eight hours a week volunteering and likes the sense of purpose it brings to her days. “It’s good for you physically when you have to get up and out,” she explains.
Dottie Smith agrees with that sentiment 110 percent. “We’ve got so many who volunteer in so many areas.” A daily presence in the Tulsa, Okla.-based retirement community's Health Care center, she says if she weren’t doing that, “I’d probably stay in the apartment more and just dry up. This keeps me going.”
She was inspired to begin volunteering there after she herself became a resident there for several months. “I told them if they would get me well, I would be their volunteer,” she jokes. As she began to recover, her energy returned and, “One day I asked the activities director if she needed anything done and she said, ‘If you feel like doing it, I’m happy to have you.’ ”
These days, Dottie is a constant presence, spending a few mornings each week with memory support residents, rubbing their hands with lotion, playing games and taking them for walks. She also spends about an hour each day taking around a food cart to residents’ rooms, saying, “I’ve found my spot here.”
The residents seem to agree, dubbing her Miss Sunshine. “They’ll say, ‘Here comes Miss Sunshine. What have you got today?’ ”