Friendship through volunteerism proves we are better together

Better TogetherIn 2020, during a year of social distancing, many of us missed outings, visits in person with friends, or hugs from loved ones. One Sioux Empire United Way funded program placed a value on those social and recreational activities long before pandemic become a phrase used daily by our community.

Better Together, operated by Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, matches adult volunteers with older adults for recreational and social opportunities. A visit in a coffee shop, an outing to a favorite store or city site, as well as assistance with grocery shopping or transportation are just a few examples of activities Better Together matches rely on to build a friendship. One of those friendships is Mary and Erin.

Mary has always been a very independent person. She is an only child who moved away from home soon after high school to explore the world, and was used to always supporting herself. Mary never married or had children and has no living family members. She spent most of her life working and volunteering in the community, until she lost mobility and independence after a stroke in 2019.

Almost a year into Mary’s match with volunteer Erin, the pandemic hit. Mary is on food stamps and was told she couldn’t use food stamps to order groceries online or have someone else purchase them for her. Erin voluntarily stepped in to support Mary with these essential tasks, while following recommended precautions. She also drove her to the bank. Erin provided extra social support to Mary throughout the pandemic by maintaining contact via phone and mailed cards. Without Better Together, Mary isn’t sure how should would have been able to make it through the pandemic.

Mary is just one of 69 older adults who are matched with a volunteer. Researchers have found that feelings of loneliness can contribute to reduced physical health, increased alcohol abuse, and obesity. Older adults who leave the house more often live longer than those who rarely go out.