Retirees an un­tapped re­source

SYNen­ergo pro­gram seeks to get older peo­ple in­volved in the vol­un­teer move­ment

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY VASSILIKI CHRYSOSTOMIDOU

Cook­ing, hair­dress­ing, em­broi­dery, paint­ing, gar­den­ing, draw­ing, babysit­ting, hand­i­crafts and read­ing. Th­ese are the nine main in­ter­ests of peo­ple aged over 65 ac­cord­ing to a study by non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion Eth­elon – whose aim is to cre­ate a cul­ture of vol­un­teerism in Greece by ral­ly­ing in­di­vid­u­als, get­ting them to­gether and putting them in touch with those who can put their skills to good use to the ben­e­fit of so­ci­ety.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Tima Foun­da­tion – which sup­ports Greek non­prof­its ded­i­cated to so­cial im­prove­ment, and es­pe­cially those that ben­e­fit the el­derly – Eth­elon has launched “SYNen­ergo: I Learn, I Par­tic­i­pate, I Of­fer,” a pro­gram which of­fers older peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to add to their own skills and knowl­edge, learn about the vol­un­teer cul­ture and get in­volved in pro­jects in the com­mu­nity.

Be­fore the SYNen­ergo pro­gram started se­niors had re­mained a largely un­tapped re­source for vol­un­teer pro­grams, which was a shame con­sid­er­ing the wealth of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence they can of­fer due to their age and also be­cause, be­ing re­tired, they have more time to spare. One rea­son was that there was an ab­sence of mo­ti­va­tion, which the pro­gram aims to cul­ti­vate, for in­stance, at train­ing cen­ters, where par­tic­i­pants will be able to meet with oth­ers who are al­ready vol­un­teers, who will share their ex­pe­ri­ences with them and spur them to get on board. Then there was also the com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lem, as a lot of vol­un­teer pro­jects are pub­li­cized mainly on­line, and a lot of older peo­ple sim­ply don’t use the in­ter­net. This is an is­sue that can be ad­dressed by way of printed ads, phone cam­paigns or even get­ting their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren to pass along in­for­ma­tion about events that they learn about on the in­ter­net.

A meet­ing was held re­cently at Villa Stella in the Athens neigh­bor­hood of Neo Irak­lio to fa­mil­iar­ize a group of pen­sion­ers with the con­cept of vol­un­teer­ing. “A team of spe­cial­ists gave them prac­ti­cal ad­vice on how to pro­tect against the heat in the sum­mer­time. They were also in­formed about the work Eth­elon does and about the SYNen­ergo pro­gram,” project man­ager Erikaiti Maria Fint­zou told Kathimerini. In Septem­ber, Eth­elon will start a new pro­gram for the newly re­tired, in co­op­er­a­tion with var­i­ous se­nior cen­ters and schools. And one mustn’t for­get that life­long learn­ing keeps us sharp, mak­ing us more pro­duc­tive while adding to our skills and knowl­edge, be it learn­ing new lan- guages, how to make or fix things, or learn­ing more about phys­i­cal and men­tal well-be­ing.

Re­gard­ing Eth­elon’s iden­tity and work, one of its seven co-founders and a mem­ber of the board, Yian­nis Ail­ianos, says: “Our mis­sion is to be­come a ref­er­ence point for vol­un­teer­ing in Greece for those who want to be­come reg­u­lar vol­un­teers and those who want to do it part-time. We are look­ing for the right ac­tions for ev­ery­one, as the goal is to de­velop a sense of pride that will make peo­ple want to ad­dress so­cial needs while at the same time strength­en­ing their con­scious­ness as ac­tive cit­i­zens. Per­son­ally, I find that any­one who ex­pe­ri­ences vol­un­teer­ing just once gets such a good feel­ing from it that they want to do it again.”

The num­bers

“We help those who are in­ter­ested in find­ing suit­able vol­un­teer­ing work ac­cord­ing to their skills and in­ter­ests. We help NGOs cover their needs by re­fer­ring vol­un­teers to them when­ever the need arises. We also play a co­or­di­nat­ing role, man­ag­ing hu­man and fi­nan­cial re­sources. We link NGOs with com­pa­nies, fos­ter­ing com­mu­nity ac­tion,” says Ail­ianos.

Eth­elon now has a net­work of 10,000 vol­un­teers with 230 part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tions. It’s held more than 250 events and has been in­volved with over 80 com­mu­nity ac­tion pro­jects. It has de­signed and im­ple­mented vol­un­teer pro­grams for the Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion and the “This is Athens” ini­tia­tive.

It’s also worth men­tion­ing that over the last four years, they’ve recorded over 500,000 vol­un­teer hours. It’s no ac­ci­dent that their motto, “If you care, you will make a dif­fer­ence in some­one’s life,” re­flects Eth­elon’s phi­los­o­phy.

Se­niors in the SYNen­ergo pro­gram can add to their skills by at­tend­ing English lessons and learn­ing how to use com­put­ers.

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