Antilano Gavino walked through the doors of The Arc of Anchorage Recreation Center not knowing what to expect, but with a desire to help people and stay active during retirement. He was part of a group of Anchorage seniors volunteering through the Senior Companion Program. That was thirteen years ago.
Antilano is a soft-spoken man who cares about people and enjoys helping them. Five days a week, he boards an AnchorRides bus bound for The Arc. From 9 am to 1 pm, Antilano works with people in the Recreation Center, providing whatever help they need to participate in center activities. He is known for his skill in making perfect hot cocoa and routinely brings enough crackers in his lunch to share with others.
The people he serves affectionately call him “grandpa,” a title he embraces.
Currently, there are four seniors volunteering at The Arc through the Senior Companion Program. The program is part of Senior Corp, a federal corporation connecting seniors 55 and older with people and organizations that need them. Currently about 500,000 Americans serve through Senior Corps sharing their experience, knowledge, and skills. The goal of the Senior Companion Program is to match seniors with adults in the community who have difficulty with day-to-day living. Senior companions receive a small hourly stipend for their service.
Studies have linked volunteering with longer life and creating a positive outlook. In a report titled “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research,” researchers found people who volunteer regularly have lower mortality rates, increased cognitive ability, and lower rates of depression.
Antilano wears a pin on his red vest just above his name badge. It was recently presented to him by the Anchorage Senior Activity Center to celebrate thirteen years of community service. That pin represents the thousands of hours he has volunteered and hundreds of lives he has made brighter by his presence. According to Antilano, he gets the better end of the deal because before coming to The Arc he spent his days with nothing to do. Over thirteen years, Antilano has learned many new things and met many “grandkids” he didn’t know before becoming a Senior Companion.
Volunteers are an important part of The Arc. There is a saying that people share what they have in abundance, whether it is time, talent, or treasure. The Arc can use whatever you have in abundance to help Alaskans who experience intellectual or developmental disabilities achieve success.