Older Americans Month: volunteers make their mark

May is Older Americans Month, a national observance dedicated to celebrating the contributions of older adults. The theme for Older Americans Month 2020 is Make Your Mark—a celebration of how we all can make a difference in our community and in the lives of older adults.

The recent challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic have underscored the importance of community involvement. When the crisis became apparent, Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services heard from many people who wanted to have an impact locally. Here are a few of their stories:

Jean Donnelly normally spends her weekday mornings in Boston running a nonprofit that helps startups. But when the Coronavirus pandemic had her working from home, she took up a new morning commute as a volunteer Meals on Wheels driver for Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services.

Donnelly volunteered shortly after the pandemic began, helping to address a surge brought on by increased demand and a need to send out additional meals to existing clients.  She got involved after hearing the program needed drivers, saying the decision was inspired in part by her parents.

“My parents live about 20 miles away and I often help them with shopping and chores,” said Donnelly. “When this started, I realized I wasn’t going to see them for a while, so I thought ‘what can I do to help local people in a similar situation?’”

Donnelly said the meals program made it easy to get started and had well-thought-out routes, some of which had stops just a few minutes from her home in Somerville. Even so, she said the experience has provided a new and unique perspective of her home city.

“It was a bit surreal the first couple of weeks, because when you went out you just didn’t see anyone outside,” said Donnelly. “But when you’d get to where people lived, they were so happy to see you. There was this warmth of community.”

It wasn’t always easy—Donnelly said her car broke down one day during deliveries and her roommate had to come and help her finish the route—but at least they got a story out of the experience. Donnelly hasn’t made deliveries in a few weeks but added she’s happy to help if needed again.

“I’m still on the list and happy to help,” she said. “There was a good crew of people that were happy to there.”


Natasha Gomez knew she wanted to volunteer and help people when the pandemic began. She wasn’t expecting to make a friend, but that’s exactly what happened.

Gomez has never met this friend—we’ll call her Anna—in person. Instead, they connected through the Friendly Phone Call program, which was launched by Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) to reduce loneliness during social distancing. She said it’s been nice for both of them.

“We talk about everything—family, food, recipes—we’re a good match,” said Gomez.

A Somerville native who now lives on the North Shore, Gomez came to know and respect SCES when her mother was a client. She has volunteered to help with the agency’s Thanksgiving meal deliveries for a few years and was glad to get involved with Friendly Phone Calls.

“It’s a way to give back and it’s also the social interaction,” said Gomez. “Whether you are 3, 23 or 85—it’s something we all need right now.”

Gomez described Anna as an all-around sweet person, saying they have a lot in common. They both speak Spanish and love food, and Anna is from the same Central American country as Gomez’s in-laws. Having only met a few weeks ago, they look forward to the weekly calls, and to a day when they can meet and chat in person.

“She tells me she really wants to meet me some day,” said Gomez. “I tell her that once we can, I’d love to do it.”