Social work background helps retiree with volunteering

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 26, 2023

 James Schmittdiel, of Sterling Heights, spends part of his retirement volunteering in the area by delivering meals and offering rides to people in need.

James Schmittdiel, of Sterling Heights, spends part of his retirement volunteering in the area by delivering meals and offering rides to people in need.

Photo provided by AmeriCorps Seniors


STERLING HEIGHTS — As a retiree from a past career of clinical therapy and social work, Sterling Heights resident James Schmittdiel says he often spends his days going to the gym, bike riding, walking and running.

But in between all that, he also volunteers two to three times a week in the community by delivering meals, taking people to medical appointments and more. The AmeriCorps Seniors program has helped coordinate his volunteer efforts.

Schmittdiel, 74, said he retired around eight years ago, ending a career that included working with kids in foster care as well as adults with mental disabilities.

He said he began considering volunteer work after reading an article about the topic in the Sterling Heights Sentry around 2015. He called a phone number mentioned in the article, and that eventually connected him to opportunities to offer assistance.

“I started delivering Meals on Wheels, and then I talked about doing something more,” he said.

Through the AmeriCorps Seniors program, he has additionally transported seniors who cannot drive on errands. He said he also tutored elementary students at Utica Community Schools for several years, but that ended once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

While he hasn’t resumed tutoring since the schools reopened, he has gone back to delivering meals. Nowadays, he said, he also provides transportation services for people in need, as well as minor yard work or home repair work.

“I take people to doctor appointments and things like that,” he said. “I fix a few things at a few people’s place of residence.”

He described some of the benefits that he has personally experienced through his community service.

“I think (with) volunteering, I come in contact with a lot of different kinds of people, so maybe my career prepared me for some of that,” he said. “It’s enjoyable just to meet different types of people, and they’re so appreciative of what you do for them. I think my background in social work helps me out in that regard.”

The U.S. government is behind the AmeriCorps Seniors program, which recruits people who are 55 years old and older to become community volunteers.

Trista Johnson, the program director for the AmeriCorps Seniors Retired and Senior Volunteer Program in metro Detroit, said her organization is locally sponsored by Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan.

Johnson added in an email that the program has over 500 volunteers serving in the tri-county area. Last year, those volunteers helped over 3,000 seniors with transportation, food deliveries or companionship, she said. She said volunteers have assisted food pantries too.

“Volunteers can choose the way to give back, such as reading with young students, guiding hospital visitors or giving out juice to blood donors,” she added.

Johnson said many senior volunteers feel a sense of accomplishment because they can tap into their past life experiences while helping others.

“I once had a volunteer share with me that she wouldn’t give up her volunteer role even for $1 million because she felt that she was making the world a better place for her grandchildren,” Johnson said.

Schmittdiel said he would encourage anyone to get involved in volunteering, especially people like himself who are retired and looking for ways to give back to the community.

“If you retire and you don’t do anything, that’s not good for your mental health or anything else, really,” he said. “(Volunteering) is certainly a plus in that regard.”

Learn more about the AmeriCorps Seniors program by visiting