Ever since she was a small child, Gloria Paar always wanted to be a teacher. And for 50 years she lived that dream, first in Baltimore City public schools and later as a nursery school teacher in Catonsville, MD. Although she officially retired from teaching in 2001, Gloria has continued volunteering, helping kids through Bridging Generations, a program that teams up volunteers from Charlestown retirement community with students from Lansdowne Elementary School.
"I have always enjoyed little children and wanted to continue working with them, so Bridging Generations was a good fit for me," says Gloria. "It's easy to volunteer when you are doing something that interests you in the first place, and then you have the added bonus of helping others at the same time."
Each week from October through May, Charlestown volunteers travel by shuttle to the school to help with reading, writing, math, and other subjects. In return, the children have performed concerts at the community and handcrafted art projects for the volunteers.
"Sometimes, you might work individually with a child on remedial work or reading with a small group," says Gloria. "Another time, you might do things to help the teachers like cutting out things for lessons, making copies, whatever they need us to do. One of our volunteers works in the library shelving books."
Charlestown volunteer Joyce Bathgate uses her artistic skills to help in art class.
"Volunteering with the kids is very satisfying," says Joyce, a great grandmother of two. "I have a graphic arts background and I also paint, so I help the kids with projects in the classroom. I also help decorating the bulletin board, cutting paper for projects, making copies---I do anything and everything."
"It's amazing when you go back again at the beginning of a new school year, the kids will see you and say, 'Hi, Miss Bathgate.' They'll be in fourth or fifth grade and still remember you all the way from kindergarten. It's a nice feeling to know that you've made some sort of positive impression on them."
Gloria adds, "The most rewarding part for me is interacting with the kids. I think it's important for them to interact with older people. It's nice to have that one-on-one experience. They need that and look forward to it, and it makes you feel good that you're providing a service to them."
The Bridging Generations program started in 2003 after Lansdowne's former principal contacted Charlestown looking for volunteers. Both Gloria and Joyce were among the first to raise their hands to help.
"You really do get as much, if not more, than you give," says Gloria. "I think it's very important to give and help others in any way you can because you're also helping yourself by keeping active. You feel like you're serving a purpose."
A new national survey commissioned by UnitedHealthcare supports Gloria's "give more, get more" philosophy. In the 2013 study, researchers found the majority of volunteers said volunteering helped lower their stress levels, improve their moods, and enrich their sense of purpose in life.
"Volunteering isn't just something healthy people do. Everyone can reap benefits," noted the researchers. "Our study involved a representative sample of adults across the country: young, old, in good health, and in poor health. Remarkably, we see older individuals and those who suffer from multiple chronic conditions taking on volunteering---and feeling better as a result."
While most volunteers know the good feelings that come from their good deeds, research now shows that the benefits of volunteering, especially for older Americans, go well beyond just feeling good; they actually help you stay healthy and may even prolong your life.
A study from Carnegie Mellon University, published in the June 2013 issue of Psychology and Aging, shows adults over age 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers.
Another benefit to programs like Bridging Generations is the intergenerational relationships they cultivate.