Saturday, September 3, 2011

Living Richly In Retirement-Should I Volunteer?

There's no doubt that volunteering is one way for retirees to keep busy and maintain contacts. It's also a great way to give back.  About one in nine people over 55 volunteer, although I think that estimate is low.  Why volunteer????  Well,for one thing,  it can be a creative outlet. Volunteering can be a way to make social connections. It's rewarding in and and of itself. It can be a job substitute for those have trouble leaving the 'working world".  Being a volunteer can also widen your experiences-it can even give you skills that may serve you will in a post- retirement job.

For some folks, making the step to volunteering can be difficult, even frightening.  Perhaps they've had a bad experience.  They may imagine volunteering as depressing (visiting hospital patients for example).  Some may be afraid that volunteering will take too much time. Others simply don't know where to start.

 Fear not. Volunteering runs an entire spectrum, and there's generally an opportunity for almost everyone.  Put another way, there's a non profit version of just about every "real" job you can think of.  Individual volunteers, at every level, are what make any non-profit keep functioning.  Not sure where to volunteer?  When in doubt, start with what you know or love. The odds are that whatever holds your interest will also need volunteers. Think outside the box. Love the theater?  Most communities have local theater reliant on volunteers to do everything from paint sets to usher at the performance.  Care about kids?  Become a Casa volunteer that attends court sessions with a child. Volunteering runs the gamut. It's not all stuffing envelopes (although that has it's own rewards).  Some more suggestions about volunteering:
  • Follow whats in your heart. Do what makes you feel good, for an agency you care about.
  • Recognize the need to say no.  Volunteers are often in high demand, but you can only do so much.  Choose one organization (or two) and just tell the other organisations that much as you'd like you simply don't have the time now.
  • Know thyself.  Every year my church has a two week mission to Honduras. Much as I would love to go, with my knee, its a no brainer. Not only would I be in pain, but I would be a hindrance to others. Instead I choose to connect with local organizations in a way I can help.
  • Start really slowly.  Commit to no more than a couple hours a week until you are sure that this is the place for you.  Even then, make sure you are not overdoing it.
  • Consider what kind of structure would make you feel the most comfortable some people prefer an organization such as Meals on Wheels. In my case, I prefer local based organizations. I get to interact at all levels more easily at say, my local food bank.
  • Do your research. If you were donating financially, you would probably check the charity rating and the percentage of dollars forwarded. Do the same for an organization you may want to volunteer with. Most non profits have websites and paper literature that they are happy to share.
Giving back is, as they say, "good medicine" . Research shows that benefits from volunteering include increased happiness, self esteem, and increased social interaction. I encourage you to step out of the box and pitch in. Reinvent yourself through volunteering, bit it in the arts, health, public policy, homelessness, criminal justice or any other area. You'll be glad you did.

Giving back is, as they say, "good medicine" .  Research shows that benefits from volunteering include increased happiness, self esteem, and  increased social interaction. I encourage you to sept out of the box and pitch in. Reinvent yourself through volunteering, bit it in the arts, health, public policy, homelessness, criminal justice or any other area.  You'll be glad you did.


  1. I was a volunteer treasurer for four years. I liked it & received kudos for doing a great job. Eventually, I quit. I just didn't have gas money to get there anymore. (live in the country 20 miles from nearest town). I do miss it though.

  2. I really agree with this post and think you gave great guidelines. I tried several different volunteer possibilities before settling on working with my library's Friends group. My involvement has grown as has my contribution.

  3. Absolutely. I volunteer at a local cat rescue one day a week, cleaning cages and feeding cats. It gets me out of the house and focused on something besides my sore knees and aching back, as well as giving me chance to meet some great people that I would never have known otherwise. Helps cats, too.

    For something completely different, I also quilt once a week with a bunch of nice people. Everybody pretty much does their own thing, but anybody who wants to join in can make quilts to donate to local hospitals, shelters, and hospices. I get to indulge in my hobby, use up my stash, and make somebody comfortable and happy. Can't beat that.

  4. I've thought about volunteering but my work schedule is nuts - I can't promise a set day/time. I tried once to do literacy tutoring but most of the slots were filled with paid volunteers - can't remember the program but they were given tuition or something and in exchange had to do so many hours of different volunteer activities - I'll put it this way - the 'teacher' knew less than some of the students and was rude to them. That did it for me at that location at least for that time. Another volunteer activity my friend and I got re-assigned because 2 big companies were manning the phones so we stuffed bags with orzo at the local food bank. I have to admit I preferred that activity and would've volunteered for it instead of the other if I'd known but a lot of volunteers there seemed to be grumbling and just not into it - found out why when one asked another how many more hours she had(it was 2:30 pm) and she said '40' - community service LOL!

    However in spite of my shaky start there are certain areas that tug at my heard and I will likely look into volunteering in those areas as I find time - I'm thinking about trying to do school tutoring for my school district(a pretty bad one with a lot of at-risk kids) though the temptation to go to the nice school that's closer but in the next county is SO tempting LOL! I also donate to various drives at my job..I think in some areas it takes some searching to find just the right fit. I know I dont' do well with the elderly or ill..not too good with kids either except maybe 1 on 1 or something casual like listening to them read or helping them with their homework or something. I did enjoy the mundane task of scooping cups of orzo and putting in zippy bags, weighing, adjusting, and tossing in boxes..weird but I enjoyed the heck out of that - was able to chat with my friend and just relax..and an added bonus - learned about orzo which I'd never heard of before! how cool is that?! :-)


  5. Jae, I appreciate the cost of gas these days. Is there anything else closer to you for volunteering-at a school or something?

  6. Juhli, sometimes I do think you have to search to find the right fit. I'm glad youve found a place you settled in to

  7. Jean, it sounds like you keep busy. I need to make more quilts for donation. Right now it seems like Im always sewing for christmas gifts or making quilts to sell. Of course full time school has limited my ability to volunteer as well.............

  8. There's nothing closer than 20 miles. I looked at housing in town. Even the low-income apartment rentals wouldn't leave me enough for groceries!!
    Maybe there'll be another season of my life!

  9. Since retiring a few years ago I have started volunteering at a local botanical park for a few hours every Monday. I love the work and getting to know new people. It also "pays" me back in free admission for me and visiting family. Also every week, after completing my work I go for a walk around the this case a 45 min walk up and down a valley path. It is good exercise and I am always learning something new about the plants. Aloha


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