Volunteering can boost mental, physical health during COVID-19 pandemic

by Lora Painter | News Channel 3 | Friday, January 22nd 2021

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Right now, volunteers are needed across Michigan and around the world as the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its one year mark.

Nonprofits in many sectors such as food banks, hospital support, and other community services are seeing a ramp-up in the need for volunteers. Many organizations agree volunteers are the heart of many nonprofits that rely on them to help reach goals.

“We have wonderful volunteers. But we have lost many who used to be in-person tutors who are overwhelmed by the idea of virtual tutoring,” said Jackie Denoyer, and English as a second language instructor.

Denoyer works as an adult learning services navigator with the Kalamazoo Literacy Council. She said the council needs new volunteers to take on the roles left empty by those departures.

Some volunteers have remained, stepping up to the challenge to provide services during a deadly pandemic. One of those is Jay Parsons, who recently turned 80 years old. Parsons teaches virtually from his home in Friendship Village in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“I told my students this year — you’re a God-send. You keep me active and involved and get me up in the morning,” Parsons said.

Research shows volunteering can be good for physical and mental health, especially for people over the age of 50.

According to a recent study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, adults over 50 who volunteer for about two hours per week have a substantially reduced risk of dying. The study also found higher levels of physical activity and an improved sense of well-being. Also, older adults develop fewer physical limitations than adults who don’t volunteer.

Parsons volunteers with the Kalamazoo Literacy Council as an English teacher to local immigrants, and also helps them prepare for citizenships tests. He recently earned the Council’s 2020 “volunteer service award.”

“We are so lucky to have Jay as a volunteer in our program,” Denoyer said. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and life experience which he is able to share with our students.”

According to staff at the Kalamazoo Literacy Council, its ESL of SWMI program supports its volunteers through monthly English as a second language tutor forums where guidance is provided on best practices as well as answer questions. The classroom teachers receive additional support during monthly teacher meetings. The organization’s volunteers also participate in what it calls KLC Tutor Checkups with other literacy volunteers. The council has created several guides to help with online learning and navigators, like Denoyer, are available to work with volunteers and answer questions.

“When the pandemic came, and we needed volunteers to work in a virtual environment, Jay stepped up, taking on additional classes, and offering to substitute when other teachers were not available. His classroom is a warm and welcoming environment, and many of his students have made friendships that extend beyond the classroom. He is popular with his students and they have enjoyed sharing their homes and families over the internet during the pandemic,” Denoyer said.

Kito Jumanne-Marshall, the council’s marketing and fund development coordinator, said Parsons is an outstanding example of the volunteers in the program.

“They receive as much from our learners as they give,” Jumanne-Marshall said of the volunteers. “Anyone can tutor virtually, no prior experience is needed. We offer comprehensive training and materials, plus plenty of ongoing support through monthly forums, weekly checkups, peer sharing, and more. Our Navigators put together this great presentation on Being a Virtual Tutor.

Council Executive Director Michael D. Evans also praised Parsons.

“Jay Parsons is one of the most committed and compassionate educators I have ever met. His service as a volunteer tutor and instructor positively impacts the lives of the learners who are fortunate to work with him. He also inspires others to volunteer and teach adults by his example and his remarkable lifelong dedication to education,” Evans said.

Parsons’ interview and full story can be found here on the News Channel 3 website.

“Life has been good to me,” he said. “So I’d like to give a bit back. And this is something I can do.”

Anyone who would like to volunteer with the Kalamazoo Literacy Council or wants to know more about the programs, can find more information on the council website.

Jumanne-Marshall called volunteering with the council giving the gift of literacy.

“We have many opportunities to serve virtually,” she said. “We welcome all who are interested to check out current openings then sign up for a training.”

Editor’s note: This story is part of a partnership with Southwest Michigan First’s “First & 42” digital news platform. Additional stories can be found on News Channel 3’s First and 42 web page.