Carol Austin has been a volunteer with the Monadnock RSVP Volunteer Center since 2003, participating in both the Neighbors-In-Deed independent living program and America Reads, a national literacy program. AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers (like Carol!) make a huge impact in New Hampshire, and we love to highlight their efforts.
During the 2019-2020 school year, Carol worked with 31 children in kindergarten and first grade as part of the America Reads program to help them improve their reading skills and promote a love of reading. During the pandemic, Carol made sure these students received their books with hand-written notes before the summer break and stepped up this fall to tutor students in school and to participate in the new Pen Pal program. In her service with the Neighbors-In-Deed program, Carol has continued to provide support to those she serves by keeping in regular contact via phone and connecting them with resources to navigate these challenging times. Carol builds a great rapport with people of all ages and has been crucial in supporting the onboarding of new staff and volunteers within the organization. She has been an invaluable source of support for program participants, staff, and volunteers – especially during these tough times.
Carol received the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award in the National Service category at the 2020 Spirit of NH Awards. Watch her video here, and scroll down to learn more about her story.
Interview with Carol Austin
How has volunteering factored into your life up to this point?
Volunteering has been part of my life for many, many years. Retired for 19 years, I simply continue to fit many hours of volunteering into my daily life.
How has your perception of the value of volunteering evolved over the years?
My perception of the need for unselfish volunteering has been reinforced many times over. A volunteer truly can make a difference in the lives of others.
How did you first get involved with AmeriCorps Seniors? What has made you stay with the program for so long?
I read a newspaper article about the Neighbors-in-Deed program, went through the training program, and began the program while still employed. Because I see the need for individual time for seniors, I continued with the Neighbors-in-Deed program when my first match was placed in a long- term care facility. After spending 11 years with a second match, she also was placed in a facility. When I retired, I volunteered also in the America Reads program. Each week, I spent time with seniors and with kindergarteners and first graders. Working with both groups, my philosophy remains the same in that you cannot tell a book by its cover – with senior, youngsters – and a book!
What do you find most rewarding about being a volunteer?
The seniors with whom I have been matched and the school children to whom I read all truly appreciate the individual attention they receive. They feel valued and worthwhile and my time and efforts are truly worthwhile.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your volunteer activities? Has your role shifted?
Although I have only just begun to visit an elderly lady in-person again, during the past 15 months I have telephoned her at least once each week. I have continued to submit monthly Neighbors-in-Deed reports. For the America Reads Program, I have not volunteered at all for the past 15 months since the school did not have volunteers at the school during the year. School has now ended for the year.
What’s the most important trait a volunteer doing what you do should have?
Look beyond what you see as an old, limited person or beyond what you see as an active child who finds it hard to sit still. Find the person who is beneath your first impression. You will be surprised by how that first impression changes!
Where do you see your volunteer service making the biggest difference?
I find it in the conversations which indicate that an older person feels valued despite memory issues, physical limitations, and “bad days” of impatience and complaint. I find it in the lives of children who clearly enjoy having the opportunity for 1:1 attention and the chance to see the adventures and fun one finds in a book.
What is an example of an experience you’ve had while volunteering that really impacted you?
During the 11 years I was matched with a woman younger than I who had suffered a stroke, I learned that she had had other matches who made her feel “disabled” and she objected to that. She was a determined, self-motivated lady who lived independently but was unable to drive. As her new volunteer, I transported her for her monthly errands which she had carefully written out on paper. She was organized and grateful to be treated with respect as intelligent and as a friend. My long and numerous shopping trips with her ended when she suffered another medical set-back from which she did not recover. During those years, she gained an appreciation for why someone volunteers with no expectation of reimbursement of any kind, and I gained an appreciation for how some people who have limitations do not let those limitations define who they are or what they can accomplish.
Do you have any fun volunteering stories that you are willing to share with us?
One first grade student chose a book about planning a party. At the conclusion of my time with her, she asked me if I knew who she was going to invite to her party. Her answer was “YOU!”
Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?
If you try volunteering, don’t be discouraged if there are challenges at first. It is worth the effort many times over!
More information about the Monadnock RSVP Volunteer Center can be found at: https://monadnockvolunteercenter.org/
To learn more about AmeriCorps Seniors opportunities, visit: https://americorps.gov/serve/americorps-seniors