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From Students to Seniors: Karen Reed Goes the Extra Mile

Karen Reed used to volunteer as a room mom when her kids were in elementary school—now she works with people on the other end of the spectrum at the Poway Senior Center.

First impressions can often be the most important, and Karen Reed applies that standard to her volunteer job at the .

“My main goal, especially being at the reception desk, is just to be the welcoming person when anybody walks through that door,” said Reed. “I want to be the person who … will listen to them and try to find them the resources they need.”

As the mother of two recent college graduates, Reed is used to helping out. She was a room mom during her children’s elementary school years and also served as the chair and co-chair for their high school grad night events.

She began volunteering at the senior center nearly three years ago when she approached the organization about helping with its home delivery meal service. There was enough support in that particular area, but what really was needed was secretarial assistance—someone who could give guided tours, sign people up for activities and assist with the membership process. Reed embraced the opportunity, but says there was a slight learning curve.

“It took a few weeks for me to really kind of get in the groove,” she said. “I had to take a ton of notes because I couldn’t remember from one week to the next.”

She adds: “It was a little intimidating because I’ve never had a phone that had multiple lines.”

But she’s a part of a cooperative, “fun group” of volunteers on Tuesdays, and they help each other. One, she says, is a “little lady” around 90, who offers a lesson in commitment.

“By all accounts she should be being served by the senior center and yet she volunteers herself a couple days a week,” said Reed, in her early 50s.  “I guess it’s just really eye-opening to see that level of commitment.”

Reed and her husband of 30 years, Jeff, have both been fortunate to have parents who are still in good health. In addition, her dad’s mom lived to be 92, and spent her last years in assisted living where she thrived. While the senior center doesn’t offer overnight care, it can guarantee one well-rounded meal Monday through Friday for those in need. A donation is suggested depending on age, but Reed says no one is ever turned away.

“If [someone] can only afford 50 cents, that’s fine,” she said. “And nobody ever says anything about it.”

It’s the inexpensive aspect of the senior center programs that Reed finds so wonderful. With just a few exceptions, activities are free to members after a $25 annual membership and non-members pay $1 for each, allowing access to low-income seniors.

It’s also a place where people can be treated like family—something that’s important to Reed. Her mother grew up on a farm and was the youngest of 12 close-knit children, but as they grew older, they moved away and spread apart. As a result, she says her mother works hard at keeping everyone connected through annual family reunions.

“We all have such a good time when we get there that it reminds us how important family is,” said Reed, a 19-year Powegian who also volunteers once a week at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

And as long as the reunion doesn’t fall on a Tuesday, Reed will surely be there. At least she tries not to miss a shift. Having filled in for the center coordinator, she learned how hard it is to get a volunteer replacement—especially at a moment’s notice.

“Even though I volunteer, I treat it like it is a job,” she said. “… So it’s just important to me to really try not to miss very often.”

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