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Senior Moments Enrich the Lives of Young Shepherd’s Center Board Members



When Lisa Helmstetter, born in the late 1980s, was in college at Northwestern, she volunteered with a nonprofit called Senior Connections. Her first matched connection was with an older woman, born in the early 1900s. “We would hang out, and she would tell me amazing stories about growing up in Jamaica, climbing trees as a child to pick and eat mangos, and challenges she faced as a young woman,” Helmstetter said. The moments the two of them spent together during weekly visits turned into a wonderful friendship and left Helmstetter with rich life lessons that still influence the way she looks at the world today.


“The experience made me really care about our senior population and made me feel that, in the U.S., we are really doing a disservice to those who have aged up,” Helmstetter said. A few years ago, her dad in Ohio told her he saw a post that Shepherd’s Center of Charlotte (SCC) was looking for board members. After one look at their website, it was clear to her that they were doing a great deal of good.


Helmstetter, who works as a consultant with Intelligent Building, has now been volunteering on the SCC board for two-and-a-half years, supporting the organization’s mission to provide a network of support for the senior community to increase social connection, expand access to critical resources and combat the negative effects of isolation. Even though embracing older adult outreach is not typical for someone her age, Helmstetter is not the only millennial on the SCC board. 


Board member Austin Miller, also in his 30s, said serving on a board dedicated to older adults has filled a gap in his life. “I really like what I do at work as a consultant in public accounting, but from a personal perspective, I felt I was lacking in finding a way to do good.”


Miller’s grandpa lived with his family during high school, and his parents both worked full-time. “I became a de facto caregiver at times, driving my grandpa around. I realized very quickly how much my time meant to him. He was lonely and excited to see me after I’d been away.” Miller said he knows the same kind of loneliness is pervasive in the Charlotte community. “It’s especially hard for older adults like my grandpa, who lost my grandma to dementia.” Miller shares Helmstetter’s view that the senior community is one that often gets forgotten. As she says, “We don’t value older adults or recognize the wisdom and life lessons they have to share.”


Both young board members enjoy having high-level duties at SCC, but are glad to be part of a true working board. “It’s a smaller non-profit, and the staff is super busy, so we have the opportunity to get our hands in the weeds a little bit -- to go out and see if we can recruit people and do fundraising and expand programs ourselves,” Miller said.


“Every nonprofit's goal is to have a diverse board,” said SCC Executive Director Alissa Celek. “Recruiting for our cause can be challenging. We have been fortunate to have cultivated a ‘dream team’ of genuinely invested community members with various backgrounds. It truly makes for productive and energetic board meetings. They make me excited for the future of SCC.”


Helmstetter says she is impressed with how far SCC has come in just two years, especially given the challenges the Covid era presented for a lot of organizations. She encourages her peers, as well as anyone of any age, to get involved. “There is a lot of joy that comes from giving your time on behalf of older people. We have a wonderful executive director and are blessed with a strong group of employees with the power to turn things around.”


Celek also said SCC “needs more community involvement” to meet the ongoing needs of neighbors who have aged up. SCC has volunteer opportunities at different levels, from committee members assisting with operations and fundraising to directly helping older adults; all have an equal impact. For more information about volunteering with Shepherd's Center of Charlotte, visit their website https://www.shepherdscharlotte.org/volunteer or contact Alissa Celek at acelek@shepherdscharlotte.org.

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