Ed looked up from his desk to see a young woman waiting patiently. She asked where to find books on teaching—she was starting a night course in education and wanted to prepare. The older man smiled and pointed her in the right direction, then went back to cataloging the new books that had just come in, with a smile on his face.
Volunteering a few times per week at the San Francisco Public Library had made a significant dent in the loneliness Ed had been battling. At 67 years old, and a retired professor living in Glen Park, he had suffered through periods of grief-fueled isolation ever since his wife passed away. Starting a volunteer position at the SFPL gave him a chance to meet new people—and continue to share his valuable professional experiences.
San Francisco offers an abundance of volunteer options, from animal shelters and homeless centers to schools and libraries. And volunteering can meet many emotional needs for our city’s older adults, whether it’s connecting with others, learning new skills, or making use of their own expertise. Remember that having a successful volunteer experience has a lot to do with whether a position is well-suited to the person. It’s helpful to talk with your loved one to figure out what they’re looking for, then search for the ideal opportunity together. And, engaging in a bustling community like San Francisco makes it all the more fun!
San Francisco-Based Volunteer Opportunities for Older Adults
San Francisco offers a range of options, so don’t feel discouraged if your loved one doesn’t immediately find something that clicks—it can take time to find the right position, but once they do, the effort will pay off.
An acronym for “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,” San Francisco’s SPCA is a nonprofit organization that cares for mistreated and homeless animals. And San Francisco’s is by far the largest in both the region and the West Coast in general. The organization also has two Adoption Centers in San Francisco—at the Mission Campus and Pacific Heights Campus. For an animal-lover, volunteering at the SF SPCA can be a truly life-changing experience.
This San Francisco organization currently has over 1,400 volunteers, and each one is important. They receive free professional training on how to care for animals, as well as ongoing education and support. There are short and long-term volunteer opportunities available, convenient for older adults who may have particular schedules. As a volunteer here, your loved one will get to meet people from all walks of life who share their deep passion for animals.
Address: San Francisco SPCA, 201 Alabama Street, San Francisco
If your aging loved one always has their nose in a book, or enjoys spending time in a quiet place, then volunteering at the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) might be right up their alley. The SFPL is always in need of new volunteers to support ongoing programming, activities, and daily services. They also work on special projects like conversation clubs, language groups, and adult literacy programs that require additional assistance from volunteers. The library offers a variety of positions that can fit many different skill-sets and mobility levels, such as archives scanner, book club facilitator, computer lab assistant, tech assistant, and literacy tutors.
After applying to be a volunteer, your loved one will be notified of positions currently available. Because their programs change frequently, it’s a good idea to stay up-to-date with the library’s current needs. Even if there’s not a position for them immediately, there may be one in the near future. If your aging loved one enjoys reading books, spending time in libraries, and meeting new people with shared interests, volunteering at the SFPL is a potential fit.
Address: 100 Larkin Street, Public Affairs, San Francisco
This is a wonderful organization that helps support San Francisco’s homeless population. They have an extensive volunteer community, and even offer a handy Volunteer Portal. Your aging loved one can register here to see all currently available volunteer roles.
Project Homeless Connect often needs volunteers who can offer support to regular staff and specialists. This can include managing the sign-in for events at the shelter, or answering the organization’s hotline. If your loved one has never had prior experience working with the homeless, you might want to encourage them to participate in the organization’s monthly walk to raise awareness before applying to volunteer.
During this walk through San Francisco’s Tenderloin area, your loved one can help distribute socks, food, and pamphlets that explain the organization’s services. This is a good opportunity to see if they enjoy the experience, and whether you want to pursue further volunteer positions. If your aging loved one wants to offer support to others truly in need, volunteering at Project Homeless Connect can be a deeply gratifying experience. Giving back to the community in this way will offer a renewed perspective on life, and encourage gratitude for the simple things.
Address: 25 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 340, San Francisco
The SF Education Fund provides an opportunity for community members to volunteer at the city’s public schools to help students get a better education. This is a perfect role for your aging loved one if they want to serve as a mentor and caring figure in a child’s life. They’ll be working individually with kids in a classroom setting to improve their academic skills and offer ongoing support.
For example, volunteers can help children learn how to read in the Literacy Program, improve their arithmetic skills in the Math Program, or help build life skills in the Mentoring Program. These types of volunteer positions are particularly well-suited to older adults who are passionate about education in general, and want to give back to their local education system.
If your aging loved one is a retired teacher, loved being a student, or is especially enthusiastic about lifelong learning, this is an excellent volunteer opportunity for them to try. They may feel excited about helping the city’s future generation to grow and learn under supportive conditions. Should they pursue this opportunity, your aging loved one will receive free specialized training so they can offer their best to the students. And, the position is quite flexible so your loved one can choose a schedule that works for their needs. Whether your loved one used to teach or is looking for a fresh challenge, they’ll benefit from new skills and an ongoing social connection.
Address: 2730 Bryant Street, Second Floor, San Francisco
Regardless whether your loved one enjoys spending time with animals, reading books, or teaching children, there are many volunteer opportunities in San Francisco for them to explore. Volunteering in this incredible city can help older adults embrace everything San Francisco has to offer—the organizations here are some of the best in the entire state. Meeting other people with shared values can also help your loved one form quality relationships, and feel like an integral part of the community.
As long as it’s a position that fits their mobility level and physical abilities, volunteering in San Francisco can open your loved one’s eyes to a different side of their city. It can also provide them with a greater sense of daily purpose and gratitude for the smaller things in life. So no matter if your loved one needs their spirits lifted, or simply wants greater connection with local community members, volunteering in San Francisco can be the start of a beautiful new chapter in their book.
If you’re unsure how to best support your aging loved one, Institute on Aging provides an array of programs, services, and online resources. Connect with us today to learn more.