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From Barbie to Hero: The Impact of Giving Back

Volunteers are a living illustration that words of affirmation can ignite a spark, reduce stress, and promote wellbeing at any age.

Have you ever received a compliment so powerful that it changed your day or maybe even your life? That is just one of the unexpected benefits that volunteers in the AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparent Program experience on a frequent basis. I spent half a day at the FiftyForward Center in Nashville earlier this year shadowing adults aged 55+ in the AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP and Foster Grandparent programs. The Foster Grandparent Program’s focus on intergenerational bonds stood out as particularly transformational.    

I met volunteers representing all walks of life – former teachers, school bus drivers, social workers, grant writers, nurses and attorneys. Some volunteers were vibrant and outgoing, others a bit more reserved and introverted; many different types of people volunteer within this program, but one thing they have in common is they are making a difference in the lives of young people. 

Affirmations – A Mutually Beneficial Tool

The AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparents and the children they work with often think of each other as an extension of their families and support network. Two of the volunteers I met (pictured above) have earned special nicknames like “my Barbie” and “my hero” from the children they work with, names of gratitude and positivity. 

These types of positive affirmations that volunteers receive (and give) have a profound effect on the volunteer, the mentee and the community around them. Not to mention, the generous act of giving time, especially to youth in need, promotes a host of benefits including:

Stress and Anxiety Reduction: When facing tough challenges, receiving words of affirmation can provide a sense of comfort and emotional support. Knowing that someone believes in you and encourages you can greatly reduce stress and anxiety.

Self-Esteem Boost: A kind and encouraging word can build a person’s belief in their own abilities, value, self-worth and confidence – something we can benefit from at any age.  

Strong Relationships: Relationships are greatly enhanced when empathy is shown and connections are made. For many, learning to trust is hard. The positive, intergenerational relationships built through the Foster Grandparent program can change one’s life trajectory. 

Mental Health Improvement: Affirming words can shift the focus from negative thoughts to positive ones, leading to a more optimistic outlook on life. Positive thinking can lead to positive actions, which can then lead to better outcomes. 

Personal Growth: Supportive actions and words can provide the motivation needed for personal growth and development. Feeling acknowledged and seen can inspire even the most uncertain person to pursue their goals and aspirations with confidence.

The Important Role of a Foster Grandparent 

Those who give generously of their time through the Foster Grandparent Program might be tutoring at-risk students, caring for infants, mentoring teenagers or advising young moms. These volunteers bring not only their experience to the program, but also their personality and character. One vivacious volunteer I met got creative and used what she called, “mad beats” to engage with a student who loves music but was struggling in math. Another steadfast woman I spoke to voiced that she might be the only constant in the life of several students she mentored that had fallen behind in school. They are role models to children and teens in their community in times of exceptional need.

Whether your volunteerism leans toward the “reserved hero” or the “enthusiastic Barbie”, AmeriCorps Seniors is a great place to start. They have a Pathfinding resource to help you find volunteering opportunities local to your community that match your availability and interests. With three options to choose from (RSVP, the Foster Grandparent Program or the Senior Companion Program), there is something for everyone. 

Who knows? You might just end up providing that much needed affirmation a child needed to fulfill their true potential – be it becoming a mathematician, playwright, musician, civil servant or local community hero. Take time today to learn more about the AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparent program by visiting AmeriCorps.gov/YourMoment

See medical disclaimer below. ↓


  1. Love this! My mother is looking for volunteer opportunities. I will forward her your article. Thank you for your beautiful perspective.

    • I think your mother will find some great, local opportunities through the AmeriCorps Seniors program! They have options with lots of flexibility and options that require a bit more time. I’d suggest using their Pathfinder tool to get started. Let us know how it goes!


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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.

Ashley Feltner
Ashley is a writer, an artist, and an ideator who has placed storytelling into her process for bringing sales and marketing ideas to life for over 20 years. Her background includes recruiting, training, content development, and ERG leadership within highly matrixed organizations that provide her a unique perspective and an ability to authentically connect with individuals from all walks of life. With the desire to place a little humanity into the digital experience, Ashley believes that words do matter, a little empathy goes a long way, and having a purpose in life is imperative. She and her husband Gabe live in Nashville, TN with two very active teenage daughters and two very lazy field spaniels.

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