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January 19, 2013

Honoring MLK Day of Service: How One SAGE Volunteer Gives Back

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"

- Martin Luther King Jr.

SAGE Harlem Program Assistant, Patricia Fraser and Volunteer Shelly Montrose
(Click Photo to Enlarge)

January 21, 2013 will mark the official Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day of Service, empowering individuals and communities to come together and volunteer their time to get involved and give back. Americans are encouraged to help out where they can, whether it’s serving food at a soup kitchen or organizing a clothing drive for those in need. Together, we can begin to create solutions to social problems, moving us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community.

At SAGE, our volunteers embody the spirit of service. They are an important part of our family, spending their available time with us to lead programming at The SAGE Center, visit a homebound LGBT older adult through Friendly Visitors or work with LGBT elders in their own communities through SAGENet. Without these valuable members of our community, we could not do all that we do.

This year, SAGE is celebrating MLK Day of Service a bit early with the White House. In honor of this day, we are highlighting the story of Shelly Montrose, an African American female volunteer at our SAGE Harlem program. A neighborhood program based on affinity, SAGE Harlem is dedicated to creating a safe haven for LGBT older people in Harlem, East Harlem and the Bronx and connecting them to services in their community. Shelly, an older lesbian herself, is a longtime Harlem resident and has been volunteering with SAGE for almost a year. Shelly told us how she became a volunteer:


I became involved with SAGE through the SAGE Harlem program.  I have been friends with Patricia Fraser, SAGE Harlem Program Assistant, for many years and she was the one to tell me about the program. I have lived most of my life in Harlem but never knew there was something for older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in my community. When Patricia started working at SAGE Harlem, she asked if I would help her out. I was happy to.

As the year progressed, I realized I enjoyed helping out and so I decided to go through the volunteer training with the SAGE Volunteer Manager, Bertis Shankle, which was a lot of fun. Having retired after 31 years working, I have a lot of free time to enjoy. However, I have very little money for recreational use after paying rent and bills, so volunteering at SAGE has been the perfect outlet to occupy my time in a meaningful way and to meet new people. It’s a better alternative than watching TV all day by myself!

I like the SAGE participants and have met many interesting and cool people. I also enjoy the projects that are given to me, so while I am donating my time, it is also a benefit to me. As a volunteer, I mostly set up the rooms for our meetings (such as setting up chairs and preparing refreshments), represent SAGE at outreach events, or make phone calls at the office to check in with participants and invite them to events. In addition, I attend programming myself, such as the women’s support group which has connected me to other older African American lesbian and same gender loving women.

I am glad that SAGE Harlem exists and offers a safe space for LGBT older adults, many who are people of color, like me. There are not a lot of spaces where we can be our full selves and feel both included and safe.

In my opinion, being older we sometimes feel like we’re in a rut and that things won’t change, so we don’t always go out of our way to try new experiences. Having SAGE Harlem however, I feel like it encourages LGBT older residents of Harlem to continue living a full and active life, whether as a participant, volunteer, or both!


Want to become a SAGE Volunteer? Check out how!


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