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50 Years of Volunteers:

DARTS Volunteers Through the Years

Volunteer Month

Happy Global Volunteer Month! In April, we pause to shine a light on the impact of volunteers around the world. Volunteers selflessly dedicate time, energy, and talents to make a difference in the lives of others. As we celebrate Volunteer Month, we recognize and appreciate the generous efforts of our DARTS volunteers.

This year, DARTS is turning 50! When we look back on the last 50 years of creating connections, it is evident how vital and impactful our volunteers have been to fulfill the mission of DARTS.

The First DARTS Volunteers

When DARTS began in 1974, the original mission was to provide transportation and mobility to older adults who did not drive. DARTS started off with a used school bus, two airport limousines, a van, and a dedicated group of volunteer drivers that stepped forward to bring the mission to life!

Generous members of the community volunteered to give rides, keeping older adults connected in their community. Within a year, hundreds of rides were given per month and DARTS was impacting the lives of many older adults.

Transportation Volunteer and Rider, late 1970s
Transportation Volunteer and Rider, late 1970s
Volunteers Over the Years

As DARTS services expanded beyond transportation over the years, the steady support of volunteers is what made growth possible.

When caregiving education and services was added to the DARTS mission in 1986, volunteers began providing support to those caring for their loved ones.

In 1997, a group of older adults began volunteering in schools to help students practice their reading skills. Since then, the DARTS Learning Buddies and Pen Pal programs have grown to reach over 80,000 students and counting—all thanks to volunteers!

Learning Buddies, late 1990s
Learning Buddies, late 1990s

In 2004, DARTS volunteer opportunities expanded to include grocery shopping, visiting, and sharing meals with seniors. These volunteers help reduce isolation in older adults.

Soon after that, DARTS began recruiting volunteers to complete outdoor chores for senior homeowners. Since 2004, countless volunteers have given their time in the yards of older adults by mowing, shoveling, and cleaning up yards in the spring and fall.

Outdoor Chores, 2004
Outdoor Chores, 2004

As more respite needs were identified for caregivers in recent years, DARTS launched The Breathing Space group respite program in 2022. Volunteers look after older adults while their caregivers receive a much-needed break in their caregiving duties.

DARTS also started a Tech Buddies volunteer program in 2022 to help answer technology questions for older adults. Tech Buddy volunteers keep older adults connected to their loved ones and the world.

As DARTS has evolved over 50 years and community needs have been identified, volunteers have stepped up time and time again. We would not be where we are today without the support of our DARTS volunteers.

DARTS Tech Buddy support, 2024
DARTS Tech Buddy support, 2024
The Power of Volunteering

Volunteering doesn’t only make a difference for those receiving help or care—it also makes a big impact in the lives of volunteers. From my own volunteer experiences, I’ve found that I get back even more than anything I’ve given to others. When we freely give our time and energy, we receive so much in return.
Time and time again, we get to hear the powerful stories of our volunteers and how impactful their experiences can be.

Marilyn, a Learning Buddy and Pen Pal volunteer, recently said that volunteering helps her to know her purpose. “My favorite thing about DARTS is how it helps me to still feel relevant in my retirement years by giving me the opportunity to donate time and energy to the Learning Buddies program.”

While reflecting on his experience at the Breathing Space, another volunteer said, “I enjoy being with a great team of people working together, as well as the guests who come to meet with us. It is an excellent way to serve others

A Pen Pal volunteer also expressed that volunteering helps to reduce the isolation she used to feel. “I spend a lot of time alone, so I love having a way to connect with others.”

The power of volunteering goes two ways. As we offer support and help to others, our own hearts are filled with purpose, fulfillment, connection, and joy.

Thank you, DARTS Volunteers!

We want to express our heartfelt THANK YOU to all past and present DARTS volunteers. You are the mission of DARTS in action! Your dedication and skills have consistently elevated our programs and services, and we’re excited to embark on the next 50 years together, continuing to make a difference.

DARTS Driver Volunteer in the 1970s
DARTS Driver Volunteer in the 1970s

Author

  • Annie Lesnar

    Annie Lesnar is the Learning Buddies and Pen Pals Program Specialist at DARTS! Annie earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Northwestern – Saint Paul. In her career, she has served as a teacher in Colorado and Spain. Annie is also co-founder of The Abana Foundation, which is a nonprofit that inspires kids-for-kids connections and empowers them to make a difference in the world. At DARTS, Annie loves working with the wonderful Learning Buddies volunteers, and partnering together to put the mission of DARTS into action!

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Annie Lesnar (Author)

Annie Lesnar is the Learning Buddies and Pen Pals Program Specialist at DARTS! Annie earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Northwestern – Saint Paul. In her career, she has served as a teacher in Colorado and Spain. Annie is also co-founder of The Abana Foundation, which is a nonprofit that inspires kids-for-kids connections and empowers them to make a difference in the world. At DARTS, Annie loves working with the wonderful Learning Buddies volunteers, and partnering together to put the mission of DARTS into action!
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