Objective: The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of the volunteer with vulnerable populations, specifically, new parents and their infants and at-risk elderly. As demand for volunteer services increases due to budgetary and personnel reductions, a better understanding of volunteers as service providers is imperative.
Method: A review of the literature related to volunteers who work with these two populations was conducted. Volunteer characteristics, roles, needs of populations served, recruitment, and training issues were addressed, specifically as they relate to the two populations.
Results: Studies indicate that the socio-demographic range of volunteers is wide, as are the motivations for volunteering. Similarities between the needs of new families and the elderly exist, and volunteers for both populations often provide supportive and pragmatic services. Volunteers for both populations are further challenged to maintain a client-focused intervention, a task which may be more difficult in the home. Training of volunteers was found to be both client and volunteer driven, with the needs of the population being served and the role of the volunteer within a specific service domain of prime importance.
Conclusion: Similarities between infant and elder populations exist, as do volunteer interventions with these populations. A theoretical framework for defining motivation, designing need-based training, and addressing the role of volunteers is discussed. The use of volunteers as compassionate and cost-effective service providers for populations across the lifespan not only provides an increase in the number of skilled workers involved with these vulnerable populations, but also allows professional staff to expand the care which they are able to provide.