Where to make A difference in The community

Barbara Hodge, of the Village of Dunedin, picks end-of-season tomatoes as she volunteers at Shared Harvest Community Garden in Lady Lake.

Residents looking to find something to do with their grandchildren over summer break, or just looking for a way to make a difference, can consider volunteering with one of the several charitable nonprofits around The Villages. Each of these nonprofits work hard to help a variety of people in and around The Villages. Some of these opportunities include working with the community garden Shared Harvest, local libraries, thrift stores and humane societies.

“Volunteers help in so many ways throughout The Villages,” said Carol Olsen, a volunteer at the Mark Twain Library. “We all work together to make sure others can benefit from the various generous residents who make an effort to donate time or money to the various nonprofits.”

A report by Corporation for National and Community Service, older Americans who volunteer experience more longevity and report less disability.

“Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose in older adults undergoing a major transition in life including retirement or loss of a spouse,” the report said.

Working at the libraries

Several of the libraries throughout The Villages need a helping hand to sort through books.

Olsen, of the Village of Country Club Hills, said the Mark Twain Library is a place she loves to volunteer.

“The Mark Twain Library is like a hidden gem attached to the Paradise Recreation Complex,” she said. “Here, I am surrounded by books and good friends. It’s a great place to go if you want information, and we help local authors get their names out as well.”

Olsen said working at the library has given her a sense of purpose.

“You learn so much at the libraries, and it’s an easy job,” she said. “There are so many people who come into the library, and you learn so much about the people you call your neighbors. It all goes toward a good cause.”

The Friends of The Villages Library is also seeking new volunteers to work in the Belvedere and Pinellas library branches within The Villages.

“Volunteers at these branches will assist guests, sort and shelve books, and help out where needed,” said Marilyn Ivison, president of Friends of The Villages Library. “We are always looking for residents who have a positive, cheerful attitude.”

Getting his hands dirty

Andy Hendricks, lead gardener of Shared Harvest Community Garden, helps lead teams of volunteers till the soil in the garden, which started as a community garden on a 2-acre plot in 1997 and has played a large role in the lives of many.

“Working in the soil is something I have always done,” said Hendricks, of the Village of Poinciana. “I worked here even while my wife was ill because working in the soil is something I love to do.”

Each day the garden is open, a team of volunteers works to seed, weed, plant, till and harvest the garden.

“Working in the garden is a labor of love,” Hendricks said, adding that they are not sure how many people they feed with the harvest from the  garden. “We grow a variety of vegetables including okra, zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, peppers and bok choy,” Hendricks said.

In a 2020 SAGE Open Medicine report, Theresa L. Scott expanded on the benefits of home and community gardening activities, especially in senior citizens, noting “gardening requires regular and continuous care.”

“Therefore,” she said, “for older adults actively engaged with their home gardens or community gardens, it provides opportunities for increased physical activity, which can prevent osteoporosis, reduce the risk of some cancers, Type 2 diabetes, depression and heart disease.”  

The garden is open from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. Monday to Thursday and Saturday. Once the produce in the garden is harvested, it is donated to various organizations throughout The Villages and surrounding areas.

Hendricks invites those interested in volunteering at the garden to show up during regular gardening times.

“There is always room for more volunteers at the garden,” said Hendricks. “They just need to show up and have a giving heart.”

Helping the Thrifty

Nancy Cummings, of the Village De La Vista, oversees production at Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe ­— something she has done for the past seven years.

“Working at Ye Olde Thrift Shoppe is great because you never know who you are going to meet,” said Cummings. “I  wanted to help find a way to dedicate a portion of my time to help others and so I started looking and found a home here.”

Cummings said the thrift store has a lot of volunteers who come to the store, each with a different story and background.

“Some find us through friends, through shopping, and others find us just because they hear a calling,” she said.

Cummings said she wouldn’t change working for the thrift store.

“It’s a fun place to work, and things are always changing,” she said. “Usually volunteers work in four-hour shift increments that work with their schedules, and there is always room for more people to join us or any other thrift store.”

Working with animals

There are several health benefits to working with animals and local humane societies are seeking loving volunteers, according to AARP.

“Working with animals, especially the ones in a shelter, can help boost your mood,” said Christina Cheakalos, an AARP spokesperson. “Working with the animals can be similar to having grandchildren because they keep you active by walking them, playing with them and even make great social companions.”

Jane Mouradjian, volunteer coordinator for YOUR Humane Society SPCA, said volunteers working with the animals benefit the animals as well because it helps them get ready for families.

“By working with the animals, they prepare them to socialize with people and other animals,” she said. “We love how dedicated they are to helping these animals find a perfect fit.”

YOUR Humane Society isn’t the only animal shelter looking for help. The Humane Society of Marion County also is looking for people to become foster parents.

“Volunteers help by teaching animals manners, bathing and grooming, playing with them and making sure they have what they need,” said social media and volunteer coordinator Liz Everett in a news release. “We need people who can dedicate time to help some of our animals in need. Volunteers play a major role in our shelter and they make such a difference, without them we wouldn’t be able to help as many animals as we do.”

Senior writer Andrea Davis can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5374, or andrea.davis@thevillagesmedia.com.