Sarah Jackson, Communications Manager, County of San Diego Aging & Independence Services
Service to the community has been a lifelong passion for Sal Herrera, 73, who served in the Navy and then spent his career working for the U.S. Postal Service. However, Sal’s greatest adventure in service began after his retirement in 2007 when he started volunteering on the USS Midway.
Sal is one of more than 800 volunteers who serve on the Midway, a Navy aircraft carrier that operated for nearly 50 years. The ship is now permanently docked in San Diego and serves as a Naval museum.
Sal is also a member of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a volunteer program for older adults led by the County of San Diego Aging & Independence Services. RSVP volunteers can choose from more than 90 locations and join 1,200 other local volunteers who are helping to address a variety of community needs. Volunteers receive special benefits, such as supplemental insurance and yearly recognition.
As a volunteer with the Midway’s Safety Team, Sal performs duties such as providing oversight, inspecting visitors’ belongings, and responding to guest accidents and emergencies. He helps to keep others safe, but Sal is also contributing to his own health and wellbeing through his service. Research has demonstrated many health benefits for older adult volunteers, including lower mortality rates, reduced depression, greater functional abilities, and even increased brain functioning.
Volunteering also create positive impacts in the community by increasing connections between people. Community involvement is one of the Live Well San Diego Top 10 indicators that measures overall wellbeing in San Diego. In addition to benefitting the physical and mental health of a population, volunteering creates positive impacts in the community by increasing connections between people. As of 2017, about 1 in 4 people volunteers an average of 88 hours per year.
One of the reasons volunteer work is associated with a sense of wellbeing for older adults is that it builds social connections. It also gives older adults a sense of purpose. Sal notes that volunteering gives him a reason to get out of bed in the morning because he knows he is going to have fun. Volunteering on an aircraft carrier ensures that he gets a healthy dose of exercise, too. He quips, “This ship is 1,000 feet long. It is a one football field-length walk to get to the bathroom!”
People need not wait until retirement to experience the joys of service. Sal is eager to show youth the value of volunteer work. He joined one of the Midway’s intergenerational projects, Project SAVE - Serve and Volunteer Everyday. Through a collaboration with Kearny High School, a part of the San Diego Unified School District, Midway volunteers are each assigned a small group of students who are in the school’s School of Digital Media and Design. Volunteers discuss their life experiences, emphasize the value of volunteer service, and genuinely connect with the students. The students prepare a multimedia project based on what they learn and share their work at a reception aboard the Midway at the end of the project.
Sal has found the program to be enriching for all involved. Students are in awe when he describes the historical events he has witnessed—Vietnam, the space program, civil rights—and in turn, he gets the satisfaction of inspiring young minds. “I get the smiles,” he explains. “They are like sponges, pulling it all in.”
Adults 50 and over can explore numerous community volunteer options, including serving on the Midway, by calling the AIS senior volunteer programs office at (858) 505-6399.