SHA’s AmeriCorps volunteer is helping seniors stay active and sharp

By Amber DeValk

SHA AmeriCorps Volunteer

I have served as an AmeriCorps Volunteer at Seattle Housing Authority since September 2017. I function as the Aging in Place Specialist within SHA’s Aging in Place Volunteer Initiative. This initiative serves residents in SHA’s Seattle Senior Housing Program portfolio and in two additional senior preferred Low Income Public Housing properties.

The focus is on providing older adults with programs to engage them socially, physically and mentally, thus supporting them to remain independent longer. Additional emphasis is placed on encouraging residents to become volunteers, and ensuring self-sufficiency among communities.
Prior to my time as an AmeriCorps Volunteer I lived in Wisconsin; in the past year I completed my bachelor’s degrees in studio arts and graphic design from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

In March, Blakely Manor residents took part in a watercolor class.

In March, Blakely Manor residents took part in a watercolor class.

My specific responsibilities as an AmeriCorps Volunteer include program planning, volunteer recruitment, instruction of programs and overall support of healthy futures for older adults in Seattle Senior Housing Program communities. Since September I have had the opportunity to coordinate with more than 30 volunteers, nearly half of which are residents in SSHP properties. These volunteers have accumulated more than 200 volunteer hours, providing various programs to SSHP residents. Programs include computer classes, CPR classes, jewelry making workshops, exercise groups, Tai Chi classes, American Sign Language classes, End of Life Planning workshops, a writing group, personal safety meetings, cooking programs, crafting groups and music performances.

Before I began developing programming, I visited 22 SSHP properties where I met with residents and discussed their interests and the types of programs they would be interested in attending. Residents in more than half of these communities requested low-impact exercise classes in the form of Tai Chi or chair yoga. Fortunately last November, along with other AmeriCorps members, I received training in Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance─a program designed to improve balance in older adults. I have since implemented two Tai Chi balance classes, and provided support to two SHA residents who have begun teaching Tai Chi classes to other residents.

Another impactful experience in my service term has been coordinating American Sign Language classes for residents. Learning a language was another highly requested interest by residents during my initial visits. As I began to seek out volunteers who possessed the skills to teach languages, I came across various ASL resources in the community. These resources eventually connected me with a local professor and a community member who both were interested in teaching ASL in one of SHA’s SSHP communities. As these classes began in January it was apparent that there was a dedicated group of participants who were committed to learning this language. They were not only learning for their own value and enjoyment, but to also more meaningfully interact with their peers.

With a goal of establishing long-lasting relationships and durable programs, it has been astounding to witness volunteers take it upon themselves to provide ongoing classes.

Remarkably, almost all the resident volunteers I have worked with, beginning as early as last October, have continued volunteering their time and services. Those who completed teaching their first classes were immediately onboard to teach one another.

Some resident volunteers have committed to teaching a class every week or month without any end date to be desired. Others are dedicated to expanding their programs across many communities.

I am thrilled to continue serving these residents, and value the commitment and enthusiasm they are willing to give.

For more information about the classes mentioned in this article, go to seattlehousing.org/events. If you’re interested in volunteering, please contact me at amber.devalk@seattlehousing.org or 206-310-6054.

 

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