ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — New Mexico’s senior population is growing. However, data from the state’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department show that for years the number of seniors volunteering to help their communities has been relatively low. Data also shows a shortage in the number of community volunteers offering to help seniors. Now, the department hopes that will change.

From July 2021 to July 2022, nearly three-quarters of a million volunteer hours were put in by senior volunteers, according to the latest assessment from the state’s budget-focused Legislative Finance Committee (LFC). But that’s less than half of the target goal.

The Aging and Long-Term Services Department runs programs where people aged 55+ can volunteer as foster grandparents or as a member of AmeriCorps Seniors. Several other programs offer even more opportunities, such as the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). And these programs need more volunteers, the department says.

“We’ve seen a decline from FY19 to FY21 of 45% in the RSVP program,” says Denise King, the department’s Aging Network Division director. “We’ve had a campaign over the last four months to do a call out for our older adult population that’s wanting to volunteer.”

The Aging and Long-Term Services Department also offers volunteer opportunities for community members interested in advocating for seniors. Participants in the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program act as a voice for New Mexico’s seniors in long-term care. They help identify the quality of care issues in long-term care facilities.

“Volunteers are coming from the community in which they are volunteering in those facilities,” explains Carmen Bliss, the state long-term care ombudsman. “They will be the ones that know best the individuals that are living there.”

“Tens of thousands of people are living in long-term care facilities, in about 300 facilities in Mexico, right now,” Bliss says. “And ideally, we need to have a volunteer that is assigned to each and every one of these facilities.”

Part of what has made staffing volunteer positions across the state so challenging over the last few years was the COVID-19 pandemic. Joey Long, a spokesperson for the Aging and Long-Term Services Department, says that now that people are returning to normal, there are more opportunities for new volunteers.

“We’re anticipating things to shift and change as they come out of COVID-19,” Long says. “We’re certainly creating opportunities to meet people where they are.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, you can call 1-800-432-2080 to connect with staff at the state’s Aging and Disability Resource Center. You can also connect online at nmaging.state.nm.us/volunteer.