Article by Tanya Erway, Volunteer Solutions Recruitment Coordinator, Department of Family Services
(Posted 2021 May)
The May 2021 theme for Older Americans’ month is “Communities of Strength.” Many of Fairfax County’s older adults have demonstrated strength and resilience during this historic time by finding ways to enrich their lives.
Devoted volunteers, like Shobha Sahgal, have continued to give back in meaningful ways and strive to maintain daily routines and elements of “normalcy” for themselves and others. Local senior centers have been instrumental in successfully helping them to remain strong by offering opportunities to connect virtually.
Shobha is from New Delhi, India, and has been in the Virginia and D.C. area for 42 years. She has one daughter and two grandchildren who reside locally. Shobha took an early retirement from the World Bank in 2000 and has since taught yoga and swimming. During the pandemic, she’s taught virtual yoga for Fairfax County Parks and Recreation, as well as taught classes on her own.
Until this past year, Shobha volunteered in many more capacities—something she has done her entire life. One of her favorites positions was volunteering with the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. It was her responsibility to help visually impaired individuals run errands, look after pets, and provide emotional support if needed. She hopes this fulfilling opportunity resumes soon.
Shobha is no stranger to Volunteer Solutions as she registered with us shortly after retiring—more than 20 years ago. As you can imagine, she’s done a variety of tasks through the years: helping women and men with grocery shopping, running errands, transporting people to medical appointments, and interacting with older adults through social visiting. Little did she know how she would later expand her volunteering repertoire in the virtual arena.
Since the pandemic, she has been a virtual social visitor for three women. She calls each of them to chat which helps to reduce loneliness. She also says that this has helped combat her own isolation.
Right before COVID-19 struck, she visited a local senior center as a possible participant, and then they shut down. Shortly afterwards, through Volunteer Solutions, she learned about an opportunity to be one of the English conversation leaders for the newly created Virtual Center for Active Adults. She and other leaders take turns helping a small group of participants improve their ability to communicate in English. The Virtual Center for Older Adults includes many activities ranging from fitness, music, dance, and art, to discussion groups, and educational topics.
Shobha shares that learning to Zoom has helped her to stay productive and connected in her volunteer role and with family and friends. She now knows how to admit people into the Zoom session, how to start and end it, share a screen, and more. Shobha thinks that this is one of the good things to come out of COVID-19. “People have learned how to use technology, and people will continue to use it. Of course, it can never replace personal interaction, but Zooming has been good at keeping people connected,” she says. Shobha’s dedication, compassion, and willingness to give her time for others’ well-being is noteworthy and deeply appreciated.
She shares this moving sentiment which captures her kind spirit: “I will volunteer as long as I’m taking my last breath, and I think everybody should volunteer. Helping others makes your own life so much more meaningful. It gives you a purpose rather than just living for yourself. People can use your time and help, and it’s worth it. It enriches your life. There will never be regrets about it.”
Submit county volunteer opportunities to Tanya Erway.
This article is part of the Golden Gazette monthly newsletter which covers a variety of topics and community news concerning older adults and caregivers in Fairfax County. Are you new to the Golden Gazette? Don’t miss out on future newsletters! Subscribe to get the electronic or free printed version mailed to you. Have a suggestion for a topic? Share it in an email or call 703-324-GOLD (4653).