The numbers alone define the challenge for Silver Key Senior Services: According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, the state's population of people 60 and older will increase by approximately 47 percent by 2015 and could include one out of five Coloradans by 2030.
Silver Key has grown exponentially since concerned residents founded it in 1970. Today, it serves approximately 8,000 Colorado Springs residents, age 60 and older, per year with 90 programs providing nutritious food, transportation and companionship, along with other necessities. That would be impossible for the staff of 40 full-time and part-time employees without the support of 800 active volunteers.
"Their service time is equivalent to half a million dollars of service to us," says Anne Temple, Silver Key's resource development associate. "So you can imagine what that means to our ability to serve and expand. It's essential."
But with so many more people entering their golden years, the organization needs still more volunteers.
"Next year is the first year of the official 60-and-older Baby Boomer, so that number [of potential clients] is about to grow exponentially for the next year and 20 years after that," Temple says. "We're bracing ourselves."
The nonprofit looks for volunteers passionate about contributing to its over-arching mission, even via clerical work or breaking down cardboard boxes after canned goods have been sorted for distribution. Those humble tasks support the people delivering food to seniors, driving them to appointments and social activities and, perhaps most importantly, sitting down for a chat.
Kindness and enthusiasm are essential qualities. Some volunteers, many of whom are seniors themselves, work nearly full-time for Silver Key. A number of them have even refused offers to get on the payroll.
"It's just amazing to see the joy that the volunteers have in being here," Temple says.
Everyone goes through background checks and evaluations to ensure that the volunteer and organization mesh well. That was especially important as Silver Key geared up for its annual Holiday Project, which has furnished food and gifts to seniors every November and December for about 20 years.
"It started out very modest, years ago, and just grew and grew in popularity and our capabilities," Temple says.
This year's Holiday Project activities included Stuff the Bus, a food drive; Giving Trees, wherein trees in public places are decorated with tags listing items seniors need; and Light Up a Lifetime: Building Bonds & Breaking Barriers.
The latter was a facilitated creative workshop with FutureSelf, Urban Peak and Dream Power Animal Rescue, a collaboration emphasizing companionship between young and old, humans and animals. Participants created an art project and learned about the other organizations, all part of the Give! Campaign.
Temple recalls that the participants were drawing basic stick figures and feeling self-conscious when they arrived, but left energized and happy.
"I think that collaboration is sort of the name of the game right now in Colorado Springs," she says. "The philanthropic world is kind of saying, 'Let's not compete for these services — we can do wrap-around, or do events that make sense for all of us.' But it is really wonderful to have that opportunity to do something completely outside of your typical world."
The proceeds from this year's Give! Campaign will go toward Silver Key's 2011 Holiday Project, but it's about more than money.
"The dollars are great because they will help us expand our programs and get out to seniors, but there's also that awareness factor," Temple says.
For instance, here's something of which few people are aware: Seniors in general dominate suicide statistics, with white men older than 85 six times likelier to take their own lives than the rest of the population. Loneliness is a major factor, and one that many Silver Key programs are designed to alleviate.
Although the organization already has volunteers in their 20s and 30s who typically step up for the Holiday Project, Temple hopes to recruit more who will participate year-round and remember that someday they'll face what she calls "senior challenges."
"This is something that's affecting your parents, your grandparents and you someday," she says. "So wouldn't you like to have somebody around when you're 80 years old and looking for support?"