Tyler bargain hunter June Stephens is constantly on the prowl for a good buy, perusing weekly advertisements and circulars with the eye of a shopping enthusiast.
The retired educator is not a fashionista or compulsive coupon clipper, but a woman on a mission: To benefit the lives of others, one bingo prize at a time.
“I feel like we’ve been very blessed, and I just enjoy doing all this,” she said from the Tyler Senior Center, while unpacking several large bags packed with giveaway snacks, personal care items and handcrafted pillows. “It just feels great to make someone feel happy.”
Mrs. Stephens, 76, and husband, Jim, 77, spend seemingly countless hours each week rounding up goodies for the center’s twice-monthly Tuesday afternoon bingo games. An entire closet at their home and several plastic totes are devoted to the bounty, but no one seems to be counting.
“Volunteering is not a very good business to be in because it doesn’t pay very well,” he teased. “We just want to help.”
National Volunteer Week, April 6 to 12, is intended to recognize people, such as the Stephenses, who regularly share their time and talents with others, without expectations of pay or compensation. Many are seniors who have the time and desire to help others.
The Stephenses also served TASCA, Hospice of East Texas and sports leagues in their hometown of Winnsboro, where they lived before moving to Tyler about eight years ago.
“It (volunteering) benefits us emotionally,” Stephens said of supplying prizes and number calling. “It’s important to people to be involved and get out. Seniors want to help, they want to volunteer.”
Some community leaders believe it would be difficult to function normally without support from seniors.
“We could not do all the activities we do without our wonderful senior volunteers, never,” said Kay Odom, who supervises the Tyler Senior Center, 1915 Garden Valley Road. “We are all short staffed, so it’s a blessing to have people who want to take ownership in the facility.”
Senior Center volunteers assist with not only bingo games, but also routine maintenance, activities and community outreach, such as visiting nursing homes, Mrs. Odom said.
Pam Moorman, who helps coordinate Smith County volunteers for Hospice of East Texas, said the value of senior volunteerism should not be underestimated.
The non-profit, which serves 22 counties, has about 320 active volunteers, about 80 percent of whom are seniors, she said. About 90 percent of volunteers who work directly with patients are at least 55 years of age.
“Our senior volunteers are wonderful,” she said. “They have the time commitment and they are ready to give back to their community. Most will tell you this is the most meaningful thing they’ve ever done.”
Their wisdom, patience and work ethic are powerful tools that can be used to help stabilize families dealing with difficult life transitions, she said.
Hospice utilizes volunteers to perform a variety of duties, ranging from greeting people at the front desk and helping distribute snacks to visiting people in their homes.
“The total of volunteer hours for all the counties, in 2013, was 25,214 hours,” said Marlene Elkins, who coordinates volunteer for HomePlace, the entity’s in-patient facility, 4111 University Blvd. “The funds conserved as a result were $558,081.57. … It’s significant.”
Some might assume that volunteering requires special business skills or talents, but many people are discovering that’s not necessarily so.
Betty Oliver, 81, of Tyler, has been snapping photos since childhood. She realized her skills with a camera generate smiles and record special moments, so she uses her talents to brighten the lives of others, at church and in social settings.
There are eight albums at the Senior Center devoted entirely to her work.
“It’s my life, really, taking pictures of people,” Ms. Oliver said. “I take them (pictures) and then give them to people. I just love to see the expressions on their faces. They aren’t expecting a gift and it makes me feel so good.”