Older volunteers leave big shoes to fill
It was a shack.
A tumble-down shack just barely spared by the wind, rain and mud that consumed the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the fall of 2005.
But in that tiny shack, Anna Jean Carnahan, 81, of New Alexandria saw hope that with a little hard work and a steady hand, she could make a difference, transforming that rough-hewn sliver of a building into a home for an elderly woman whose house was inundated by Hurricane Katrina.
The retired oncology nurse is emblematic of the “Do the Right Thing” generation — born in the 1930s and early 1940s — known for its seemingly undying devotion to give back through volunteering.
Some fear that when members of Carnahan's generation go, it could be some time before others step up in such impressive numbers to take their places.
A recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of volunteers 65 and older increased by more than 1.5 million during 2012, while volunteerism among the next two age groups — those 35 to 44 and 45 to 64 — dropped by nearly a million.
In part, experts attribute the decrease to a fragile economy that forced people to focus more on work than outside activities.
Regardless of the reason, it's a trend that worries social service officials who wonder what they'll do when the older generation no longer is able to help.
“We may never find that type of volunteer again,” said Donna Pacella, executive director of the American Red Cross in Westmoreland, Armstrong and Indiana counties.
“My people are 80 years old,” said Loretta Scalzitti of the Jeannette chapter of Tri-City Meals on Wheels. “We are getting younger people, but I need more.”
One volunteer, World War II veteran Frank Scurci, 91, has delivered meals since retiring in 1984 from General Tire Co.
“The old volunteers are delivering to old people,” Scalzitti said.
What drives them?
Researchers say the older generation is driven by the defining events of their lives — the Great Depression and World War II — that unified the nation and fostered a sense that citizens working together could weather the toughest times.
“It's how you're brought up,” said Marjorie Montanari, 84, of Lower Burrell, who has volunteered at more than 40 disasters from Florida to California during six decades with the Red Cross.
That upbringing fueled her to volunteer to escort grief-stricken families to the site where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Somerset County on Sept. 11, 2001.
That same sense of duty led Carnahan to Esctawpa, Miss., where she spent her nights sleeping on a cot and her days hanging drywall to build a home for a woman she had never met.
Even today, as she watches tragedies unfolding around the world, Carnahan feels a tug.
“You just feel that you want to do something for these people. I'd go to the Philippines (to do typhoon relief work) if I were younger,” said Carnahan, who humbly talks about working with her church, collecting shoes for the needy and crafting quilts for nursing home patients and families who lost their homes in fires.
Who will carry on?
Federal statistics show the best shot at carrying on the volunteer tradition might rest with two generations that are years apart.
Those between 34 and 44 show the highest volunteer rate — 31.6 percent — among the 64.5 million Americans who said they volunteered in the past year, federal numbers indicate.
A study by Pew Internet & American Life Project found that members of that age group listed helping others as their third-highest priority, behind being a good parent and having a successful marriage.
The next greatest hope appears to be with some of the youngest Americans, according to federal statistics showing that 27.4 percent of those ages 16 to 19 volunteer.
Their focus is different, one expert said.
Susan Ellis of Energize Inc., a Philadelphia training, consulting and publishing firm specializing in volunteering, said older volunteers seek less-defined tasks, doing whatever needs to be done with groups such as the Red Cross. Young volunteers, on the other hand, want specifically defined service projects with preset goals.
Mt. Pleasant High School sophomore Sarah Zelmore is part of that next wave of volunteers.
She works at a monthly dinner feeding 175 people, in addition to “constant studying” and other extracurricular activities.
“I love to have a full plate,” said Zelmore, 16, of Acme. “There's always room in my schedule for making a difference.”
And if Bryan Musser, 20, of Crafton, ever met Carnahan, Montanari or Scurci, there's little doubt they would approve.
Musser has worked two jobs while attending Pittsburgh Technical Institute and volunteering with The Salvation Army, giving up holidays to be on call.
He even helped with Superstorm Sandy cleanup efforts in New Jersey.
“It was difficult, but where there's a will, there's a way,” Musser said.
Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Time with Penguins taught Bylsma importance of stability
- Domestic dispute believed reason for Aliquippa homicide
- Distracted Steelers show nothing in loss to Eagles
- Records: Steelers RB Bell admitted smoking pot before traffic stop but denied being high
- AT&T offers customers option to text 911
- West Mifflin Area raises $1,000 through Ice Bucket Challenge
- Pirates’ Axford overcame long odds to reach majors
- Take a lap of luxury in your dream car at Pittsburgh International Race Complex
- Youngwood shelter removes 44 dogs, 9 cats from shuttered Fayette SPCA
- Pitcairn police department to carry Narcan for heroin overdoses
- Dog owners accessorize with canine couture