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SLO ‘matchmaking’ service offers volunteer opportunities for seniors

What it's like to volunteer with Friends of Elephant Seals

Misty Wycoff, 67, volunteers as docent with Friends of the Elephant Seals. Here, she talks about meeting people from all over the world who stop to look at elephant seals near the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.
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Misty Wycoff, 67, volunteers as docent with Friends of the Elephant Seals. Here, she talks about meeting people from all over the world who stop to look at elephant seals near the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.

B. Misty Wycoff sidled up to a couple who were clutching umbrellas and gazing out at the dozens of female and juvenile elephant seals sliding across the sand, swimming in the surf or clustered together in tight clumps on a secluded beach north of San Simeon.

“Hey folks, how are you doing?” asked Wycoff, a docent with Friends of the Elephant Seal.

Upon learning that the Ohio couple was visiting the elephant seal rookery for the first time, Wycoff launched into a memorized trove of information about the mammals, which have returned to the beach to molt.

“I get to talk to people from all over the world,” Wycoff said of her volunteering experience with the nonprofit group that provides education about the seals. “It’s fun to see the light in their eyes. And if you’re a senior and often at your house, it’s a good way to raise your self-esteem.”

As a volunteer, Wycoff is also affiliated with Central Coast Community Volunteers, a program under the nonprofit organization Senior Volunteer Services — a San Luis Obispo-based “matchmaking” service for older adults.

That’s how Senior Volunteer Services Executive Director Marie Brinkmeyer describes the organization’s role in its efforts to pair seniors looking for volunteer opportunities with groups eager to have their help.

“We’re matchmakers,” Brinkmeyer said. “We listen to what people would like to do, and we’re able to provide them with a listing (of volunteer opportunities).”

Seniors can research volunteer opportunities on their own, but Senior Volunteer Services acts as a one-stop shop by giving them the ability to pick and choose from a number of nonprofits that might fit their interests (at no cost to the nonprofit partner organizations). The nonprofit also provides liability insurance for volunteers who report their hours, and free advertising for the partner agencies.

We’re matchmakers. We listen to what people would like to do, and we’re able to provide them with a listing (of volunteer opportunities).

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“If people move to a new area, even though they may want to volunteer, they’re a little reluctant to go knock on a door,” Brinkmeyer said. “But if they come through us and the introduction is, ‘I’m an RSVP member or CCCV member’ — that opens the door in a less scary way.”

Through two of its programs, Senior Volunteer Services has about 830 seniors donating their time with about 200 nonprofit agencies across San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties. In 2015, they provided more than 160,000 hours to those agencies.

As of late March, 734 volunteers were serving at 137 agencies through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of the Central Coast; while another 93 volunteers were donating time at 61 agencies through a newer program, started Oct. 1, called Central Coast Community Volunteers.

The CCCV program was created to retain agencies and volunteers that no longer qualified under revised federal guidelines for RSVP, a nationwide program. The new guidelines meant the RSVP funds could no longer cover certain nonprofits that received help finding volunteers, such as Woods Humane Society and Habitat for Humanity.

The new CCCV program lowered the minimum age of volunteers to 50 years old — RSVP volunteers are 55 or older — to increase the total number of volunteers and attract younger seniors like semiretired or retiring baby boomers, according to Senior Volunteer Services staff. But funding is limited; a fundraiser for Senior Volunteer Services and its volunteer programs ends Friday.

I just know that it’s a wonderful thing to do for your health. It gets you moving around, gives you a stronger network of support, gets you around other people.

B. Misty Wycoff, volunteer docent with Friends of the Elephant Seal

There are numerous opportunities available right now for volunteers: They can lead tours at Point San Luis Lighthouse, serve as docents at the Dana Adobe in Nipomo, harvest fruit that would otherwise go to waste with GleanSLO, become advocates for an abused child or sibling group through CASA of San Luis Obispo County, drive for the Senior Nutrition Program, become a disaster volunteer with the American Red Cross or advocate for residents of long-term care facilities through the Long Term Care Ombudsman Services of San Luis Obispo County.

Wycoff, the Friends of the Elephant Seal docent, said volunteering has numerous benefits, especially for older adults.

“One of the challenges of getting older is if you’re not careful life tends to narrow — you lose abilities, friends; if you move, you lose that community,” she said. “You grow by challenging your brain, and that tends to equal longevity and a better sense of self-esteem and balance.”

Get involved

To volunteer or learn more about Senior Volunteer Services, go to www.seniorvolunteers.org, call 805-544-8740 or drop by the office at 660 Pismo St. in San Luis Obispo.

Tickets for a drawing in which the winner will receive 101 bottles of wine can be purchased at the office through Friday afternoon. Tickets are $25 each or five for $100; the drawing will take place Friday at 5 p.m.

Donations to the nonprofit organization can also be made online or through a mail-in donation form.

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