We have an amazing community of volunteers who faithfully and generously give their time and energy to serve seniors throughout Boulder County. In an effort to recognize their work, and so that our entire community can get to know our volunteers, we started our Volunteer of the Month award program. 

We’re thrilled to introduce you to Irene Hillson, our October 2018 Volunteer of the Month. Irene has been volunteering with Cultivate through our RSVP program since 2004. Currently, she delivers groceries with Carry-Out Caravan and inspires us with her views on community and volunteerism. Read on to get to know Irene.

Note: be sure to subscribe to our redesigned monthly newsletter to get the Volunteer of the Month announcement, the latest Cultivate news, and other valuable content delivered straight to your inbox. 

Where did you grow up?

Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. Growing up there you always had that sense of community that wasn’t really instilled in you...it was just there. If you saw a trash barrel that had fallen over, everybody helped pick it up. If you saw a lost dog you knew where that dog lived. You got to know all of the people in the neighborhood. That sense of community was really important to me.

What was your childhood ambition?

I don’t think I had a childhood ambition. I was so busy as a child playing kickball, street hockey, hide-and-go-seek, rollerblading and biking. I was too busy being a kid to have an ambition. I thank my parents and my older siblings for that. Just having a childhood where you weren’t so worried about what you were going to be when you were twenty years older.

What was your first job? 

I grew up in a small neighborhood where you had the local corner store grocer and butcher and they extended credit to the families when times were hard. Then you had your mailman and patrolmen. Your first job was always a newspaper deliverer or babysitting. Mine was babysitting.

What was your proudest moment?

Watching my two daughters graduate college. Here in Boulder at CU. Seeing that and watching them graduate was really the proudest moment for me.

What is your greatest challenge?

Driving a stick. I’ll put that right out in the world for everyone to know. Driving standard has been the bane of my existence. It is so hard for me. I blame it all on my parents. It’s their fault for teaching me an automatic first.

What are you most passionate about?

Giving back to the community. Trying to maintain a sense of community. I think that’s very hard now. You don’t have the neighborhood stores. You don’t have neighborhoods. I’d really like to see that sense of neighborhood-ness come back. That’s hard to rebuild once it’s lost.

Would you say that’s influenced by your own childhood and the community you had?

Absolutely. You learn things from that. I think my mom and dad did a great job in making sure we knew who all of the elderly neighbors were — because they went over and visited them. You learned that those people had stories, lives, and experiences that you can’t find in a textbook. It’s not something you can learn later on. These are the times to listen to them. They have wisdom to give to you, and it’s going to be gone. That’s another reason why I want to keep volunteering. It’s to have that experience that I had throughout my whole childhood.

What are some of your hobbies?

I love bowling. I like going to the opera. I like theater. I love horseback riding.

What is one item on your bucket list?

One that was on my bucket list was meeting my cousin over in Ireland and seeing where my grandmother grew up. That was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I did that last year with my daughter. We travelled together for six weeks all throughout Ireland. It was an incredible experience. Very humbling. It made me realize even more so how very fortunate I am.

What three words would you want to describe your legacy?

Grateful. Kind. Caring.

What advice would you give to people of a generation other than your own?

Be kind. Just be kind. Everyone is born with the ability to be kind. You need to foster that in yourself because you can lose it.

Why do you volunteer?

I don’t think volunteering is something that I do. It’s who I am. I’m a volunteer.

Why Cultivate?

I really like the commitment the staff and the volunteers have to making this program work. The effort that is put into it, and the order. I’m in accounting and finance by trade so I’m kind of a freak about the order and detail of things. It’s a really well-run program. And one of the the things that really comes across is how much the volunteers care about our clients.

Who is a specific senior who made a significant impact on your life, and what is one lesson you learned from them?

I remember the woman who I was volunteering with through RSVP. She ended up having to move from Boulder to the east coast. She was in her high 90s at that point. And people were worried about whether she would do okay moving there. When the subject was broached to her, she said, “Well, I guess it’s about time isn’t it? I’ll think of it as an adventure. Let’s go do this.” Just seeing that spirit of being happy, it’s inspiring. I’m not afraid of getting old. I’m grateful for every day I have. I look forward to getting old.

Volunteering with us is easy, flexible and fun! Join our volunteer team today and, like Irene, make a deep impact in the lives of your senior neighbors.