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When Sylvi was widowed seven years ago, her life moved in a direction she had not anticipated.
She had given up her job to care for her husband before he died and, consequently, she struggled to get back into work.
“I took time to admit it to myself but I was depressed,” Sylvi said. “Of course I had friends I could speak to but what I lacked was purpose; I had absolutely nothing to fill my day with.”
When Sylvi visited her GP, she was immediately prescribed anti-depressants. Vehemently against taking medication, she sought other ways that might be able to help. She made an enquiry with her local Abbeyfield home, after learning about volunteering with us through a friend.
“I warmed to the place immediately,” she said. “It just felt right as soon as I walked in. It was obvious that the residents all look after each other and they were just such a family.”
It has been three years since her enquiry and Sylvi now volunteers at Donaldson Lodge supported home for older people in Potters Bar at least four times a week. She’s even there on Christmas day where they have an influx of visitors from the community as part of Abbeyfield’s Companionship at Christmas campaign!
“It gives me a reason to, and I don’t want to sound sad here, it gives me a reason to get up and get motivated,” she said. “I like thinking of all these little things that we can do with our day and it brings me such joy to do so. It’s reciprocal though; it’s definitely a two-way street.”
The benefits of volunteering on mental health are well documented. Research by Age UK into the long-term effects of charity work on mental health found that people who had volunteered were much less likely to suffer from depression. The study also showed that people who volunteer also had much higher levels of life satisfaction and wellbeing.
It can be a way to make new friends, improve levels of self-esteem and give an overall sense of purpose.
But it wasn’t just Sylvi’s sense of wellbeing that improved through volunteering. Her presence at the home was particularly useful for one resident, Harold, an ex-technical artist, draughtsman and keen artist.
“He gave it all up when his sight deteriorated and eventually he was registered as blind,” she said, “but I wasn’t taking no for an answer. I had seen his portfolio and it was amazing, I had to get him drawing again.”
“I went to get him a sketchpad and some pencils, and with a little persuasion I encouraged him to start creating again. It had been fifteen years since he had put pen to paper but we got there slowly. Now he is part of an art group with the RNIB and we have his work up all around the house.”
“It is inspiring to see change in him. Just try it,” she says, “anybody can volunteer, it doesn’t matter what you are good at, anybody can pick up a crossword book or help with people with their shopping. What do you have to lose?”
Are you inspired by Sylvi's story? Why not think about volunteering at our homes and help us make a difference to the lives of older people?
You can find all of our current volunteering opportunities on Do-it.org