Sandra Jackson, 68, of Pasadena, Maryland says she believes that everyone has something to contribute to his or her community as she helps almost every day by giving rides to those who do not or cannot drive. She is making a difference by fostering a community that helps all of its residents, particularly the elderly, about 80 kilometers from Washington, D.C.
Sandra Jackson began her community service after earning a graduate degree in gerontology. She and two friends were looking for things they could do for their town's elderly residents.
"We decided that staying in their own home is what everybody wants to do," she said. "But it gets you to the point where you can't drive, especially in an [rural] area like this. There is not any public transportation." As she gave rides to people to medical appointments, pharmacies and grocery stores, Jackson co-founded the non-profit organization Partners In Care that coordinates volunteers and people in need. "We actually started to advertise and look for people who needed help," said Jackson. "In the beginning, we had 13 people who needed help and 13 people who were going to give help. Now we have 2500 members."
Partners In Care operates on a time-banking or service exchange concept. Sandra Jackson says that when volunteers perform a task like driving someone to the doctor, he or she earns credit hours that can be used at a later date, donated to another person or contributed to the community bank.
"The average age of the volunteers is 75, many widows living in their homes trying to keep their homes up," she said. "So it is a perfect match for them to donate their time and then they get help with their homes. If their doorknob falls off or the screen door needs to be repaired, they call us. We have volunteers again, handymen, to go out and help them."
Each month, several new volunteers join Partners In Care. Most of them, Jackson says, become ride partners.
"Everyone has talent. Everyone has something to contribute," she said. "Our job here is to help them do that, help them help each other. That is what keeps this program going."
Jackson says volunteering has been part of her life since her college days, when she tutored orphans in her neighborhood. Recently, she was among 26 recipients of the "Older Volunteers Enrich America" Awards, which honors volunteers over the age of 50.
"I feel very blessed to be able to be doing this at my time in life," said Jackson. "It is very rewarding because you realize you make differences in somebody's life almost every day. So it is a very good feeling."
Sandra Jackson says she expects to continue volunteering for another 10 to 12 years - as long as she can get around and contribute to her community.