Cooking, hairdressing, embroidery, painting, gardening, drawing, babysitting, handicrafts and reading. These are the nine main interests of people aged over 65 according to a study by nongovernmental organization Ethelon – whose aim is to create a culture of volunteerism in Greece by rallying individuals, getting them together and putting them in touch with those who can put their skills to good use to the benefit of society.
In collaboration with the Tima Foundation – which supports Greek nonprofits dedicated to social improvement, and especially those that benefit the elderly – Ethelon has launched “SYNenergo: I Learn, I Participate, I Offer,” a program which offers older people the opportunity to add to their own skills and knowledge, learn about the volunteer culture and get involved in projects in the community.
Before the SYNenergo program started seniors had remained a largely untapped resource for volunteer programs, which was a shame considering the wealth of knowledge and experience they can offer due to their age and also because, being retired, they have more time to spare. One reason was that there was an absence of motivation, which the program aims to cultivate, for instance, at training centers, where participants will be able to meet with others who are already volunteers, who will share their experiences with them and spur them to get on board.
Then there was also the communication problem, as a lot of volunteer projects are publicized mainly online, and a lot of older people simply don’t use the internet. This is an issue that can be addressed by way of printed ads, phone campaigns or even getting their children and grandchildren to pass along information about events that they learn about on the internet.
A meeting was held recently at Villa Stella in the Athens neighborhood of Neo Iraklio to familiarize a group of pensioners with the concept of volunteering. “A team of specialists gave them practical advice on how to protect against the heat in the summertime. They were also informed about the work Ethelon does and about the SYNenergo program,” project manager Erikaiti Maria Fintzou told Kathimerini.
In September, Ethelon will start a new program for the newly retired, in cooperation with various senior centers and schools. And one mustn’t forget that lifelong learning keeps us sharp, making us more productive while adding to our skills and knowledge, be it learning new languages, how to make or fix things, or learning more about physical and mental well-being.
Regarding Ethelon’s identity and work, one of its seven co-founders and a member of the board, Yiannis Ailianos, says: “Our mission is to become a reference point for volunteering in Greece for those who want to become regular volunteers and those who want to do it part-time. We are looking for the right actions for everyone, as the goal is to develop a sense of pride that will make people want to address social needs while at the same time strengthening their consciousness as active citizens.
Personally, I find that anyone who experiences volunteering just once gets such a good feeling from it that they want to do it again.”
“We help those who are interested in finding suitable volunteering work according to their skills and interests. We help NGOs cover their needs by referring volunteers to them whenever the need arises. We also play a coordinating role, managing human and financial resources. We link NGOs with companies, fostering community action,” says Ailianos.
Ethelon now has a network of 10,000 volunteers with 230 partner organizations. It’s held more than 250 events and has been involved with over 80 community action projects. It has designed and implemented volunteer programs for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the “This is Athens” initiative.
It’s also worth mentioning that over the last four years, they’ve recorded over 500,000 volunteer hours. It’s no accident that their motto, “If you care, you will make a difference in someone’s life,” reflects Ethelon’s philosophy.