I had dinner with a friend in San Francisco on Wednesday who mentioned that she was interested in volunteering with seniors, brightening the day of someone who otherwise probably wouldn’t have a visitor. She’d be great: she plays piano and guitar; she’s smart and a good conversationalist in both English and Mandarin, and she’s learning French. The only problem is that she’s twelve years old. Even though her parents were willing to provide rides or come along, the groups that they checked with require volunteers to be 16 years old.
Finding volunteer groups that accept younger children and early teens can be a challenge. Some do, some don’t. Some post their policies on their web sites, others don’t.
In order to help my young friend, I started at GreatNonProfits, where I was able to get a list of rated organizations helping seniors located in San Francisco. There were a few promising options (with reviews that rated them at 4.5 stars or better). Some were things that a twelve-year-old couldn’t possibly do (driving or delivering meals-on-wheels) and others seemed a bit of a stretch (becoming a counselor about insurance programs and Medicare), some were outside city limits, and at least one did limit their volunteers to age 16+. After narrowing it down, it seemed like “Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly” was the best option. They had six 5-star reviews (though all from board members, and all posted within a couple days of each other) but perhaps more encouraging, they have a very active Facebook page and a decent website. While I’m not sure how a 12 year old girl will relate to being a “Little Brother”, the website tells the story of the name, with its founding in Paris, France after WWII. The San Francisco chapter is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The site doesn’t say whether they accept young volunteers (or offer an age limit), but the Facebook page does have pictures of families with children younger than 12 participating in some of the social events with seniors (one of which happened yesterday…) and one of the programs they offer is a phone-based one where you just talk with your friend by phone from 1 to 10 hours per month.
I’m really impressed that my young friend is wanting to volunteer with elders, and glad that her parents are supporting her. I hope that Little Brothers works out, but if it doesn’t my next recommendation would be to look for something even more informal: a senior who happens to be a member of your church (or a local church if you aren’t active in one) or a neighbor on your street, or a friend made at the library.