What do you do after you’ve spent a lifetime volunteering, and then retire? If you’re Blue Medicare Advantage members Dave and Wanda Harris, you keep volunteering.
Over the course of their married lives, the Kansas City couple has volunteered in many different capacities. When their children were young, they served as members of the school board, coached the kids’ basketball, volleyball, and baseball teams – and even manned the concession stands on weekends.
“Service is very important to us, and it’s important to our culture, Dave explained. “We’ve been fortunate in our lives, and we’re very glad to give back.” To this day, the Harris’ are active in their church community, and the couple stays busy helping their three children, six grandchildren, and extended family that includes 12 siblings.
“It’s just in our nature to give more than we receive. It’s amazing what you receive in return,” Wanda and Dave shared.
Once a week, Dave and Wanda put on their volunteer jackets, and report for duty at Saint Luke’s East Hospital. Wanda volunteers in the surgery waiting room where she relays updates from the surgical team, keeping families informed. She also makes sure that families are comfortable as they wait for loved ones to be moved out of recovery and into a hospital room.
Wanda elaborated, “It’s enjoyable to be able to help people there. I’ve been a nurse for 44 years, so it was like I couldn’t walk away from it totally.”
Wanda talked about what it’s like to fill an important need at the hospital, and to be valued by patients, doctors, nurses, and staff. “I get a lot of Thank-You’s, We-Appreciate-You’s, and What-Would We-Do-If-You-Weren’t-Here’s,“ she said with a big smile.
Dave, a retired assistant controller and accounting manager, volunteers at the Diagnostic Center entrance at Saint Luke’s East. He provides directions and assists patients who’ve come in for doctor appointments, lab work, X-rays, MRIs or CT scans. Sometimes patients are physically challenged and need more help, in which case Dave will grab a wheelchair and escort them to their appointment.
“When I see other people in need, it really helps me focus on how I need to get physical activity, eat properly and maintain my health,” Dave shared. “This is just another powerful incentive to keep volunteering.”
Dave also volunteers once a week at Lee’s Summit Social Services. Lee’s Summit Social Services is a non-profit agency that benefits low-income families and individuals with basic needs such as food, utility and rent assistance, clothing, medical items, school supplies for children and holiday needs.
Dave drives a van to local grocery to pick up close-to-date products for donation to Lee’s Summit Social Services food pantry. His service has been essential throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, loading and unloading donations has proven to be great exercise.
“I encourage folks to volunteer because you stay active and you get that exercise,” Dave advised. “It’s really amazing how you benefit emotionally and physically in return for the volunteering you do.”
It’s widely reported that volunteering has numerous emotional and physical health benefits for older adults. According to a study done by the Corporation for National and Community Service, adults over age 60 who volunteer reported higher levels of well-being and lower disability than those who did not. A study done by Wharton College found that volunteers feel more useful, capable, and confident. And the National Institute on Aging has stated that participating in meaningful social activities such as volunteering, can improve longevity, improve mental health, and reduce the risk of dementia.
Dave and Wanda plan to stay engaged in their volunteer efforts for years to come, and hope others will join them. They left us with this final thought. “We hope that when someone reads this story, they’ll come to understand the rewards in volunteering and will be inspired to get out and do the same thing.”