Transitioning from the packed schedule of a full-time job to the leisure of retirement can be challenging for some recently retired individuals. Finding a volunteer position can be a great way for retirees to use their time productively through a retirement activity while still maintaining the benefits of a relaxed lifestyle.
Volunteering During Retirement
Consider this scenario: an organization in your community needs help. You feel compelled to assist, so you call and offer one of these items:
- Skilled labor
- Money, clothing, or food
- Physical labor
- Guidance or knowledge
Which one are you most likely to offer?
The question is relatively straightforward, but it can reveal a lot about the respondent. Usually, people don’t really know why they chose the answer they did. Often, the respondents contemplate the question and then say something like, “I guess I’ll think on it when I have more time,” or, “I’ve always helped in that way.”
Many people enter volunteer positions with little information about what they’ll do or how the organization will use their skills. Often, volunteers expect the work to be consistently fulfilling, while in reality, volunteer work may or may not offer consistent satisfaction. Actually, not every type of volunteer work is fun or rewarding. People who expect for their volunteer work to bring them consistent satisfaction long term might discover they’re feeling dissatisfied and might even prefer working again rather than just volunteering.
The Benefits of Volunteering in Retirement
Selecting the appropriate volunteering position can vastly improve both physical and emotional health in retirement. A study conducted by Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) found that 67% of retirees found meaningful relationships through volunteering, who previously said they lacked companionship. The study also reports that 70% of respondents who experienced symptoms of depression prior to volunteering reported a decrease in symptoms after a year of consistent volunteer work.
The AARP surveys their Experience Corps participants annually. A Michigan retiree named Tom Stuart uses volunteering to keep his mental capacity strong. He says the best benefit to volunteering is his “belief that I am making a difference.” A past survey found that Stuart’s belief holds true for most volunteers. Ninety-seven percent of the volunteers surveyed said their volunteering gave them “a sense of life purpose.”
Finding a volunteer role that fits your skills and desires can help restructure the parent or employee identity you may have maintained prior to retirement. Larry Gable, a Virginia retiree, says his retirement is enjoyable mostly because “volunteering gave me another purpose in life. It lets me interact with folks my age and younger, bringing a new purpose in life every day, along with a new learning experience.” Additionally, volunteering can create and sustain relationships by providing the opportunity for working with new people and building deep friendships.
Best Places for Volunteer Activities in Retirement
Here’s a list of a few of the best organizations for retirees looking to volunteer:
If you’re hoping to both contribute to your community and build new connections, consider being a foster grandparent. A branch of Corporation for National and Community Service, Senior Corps, offers the Foster Grandparents program that pairs retirees with children and teenagers in need of mentorship and guidance. The Foster Grandparent program is for people over the age of 55 and usually requires about 20 hours a week of service in locations like correctional facilities, schools, drug treatment residences, hospitals, and child-care centers.
Senior Companions is another branch of the Senior Corps program. Like Foster Grandparents, this volunteer work is for those 55 years old or older. Senior Companions pairs a volunteer with an adult who needs assistance with activities like shopping for food or paying their bills. This program helps people stay in their homes rather than moving into care facilities before they want to. Often, volunteers help out caregivers by offering companionship to clients or running errands. Volunteers for Senior Companions usually help two to four people a week, totaling somewhere between 15 to 40 hours.
AARP Foundation Experience Corps
If you’re a passionate reader, then consider volunteering for the AARP Foundation Experience Corps. This program pairs volunteers 50 years old or older with children who need help improving their reading abilities. AARP says they have around 2,000 trained volunteers in over 20 cities that help upwards of 30,000 elementary schools with reading every year. Students who work with Experience Corps volunteers can see a growth of 60% in literacy skills compared to others in their grade or age range. Usually, volunteers give between six and 15 hours of reading help weekly when school is in session.
Habitat for Humanity
Another excellent volunteer opportunity for retirees is working with Habitat for Humanity, which offers construction help to those who need a place to live. Many retirees volunteer with Habitat for Humanity specifically through the RV Care-A-Vanners program. Anyone with an RV can help out at building sites when traveling with no experience required.
With Habitat for Humanity, volunteers often do much more than renovate or build houses. They can receive training to become Master Safety Trainers, which allows them to train new volunteers with Habitat for Humanity on all necessary safety regulations. Care-A-Vanners also have the option of assisting with program management or working with the desk staff.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
The Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program pairs volunteers with youth in the community in need of supportive adult role models. Specific programs exist within the overarching Big Brothers Big Sisters program, allowing volunteers to work with children through their school, children in military families, and the children of incarcerated parents.
American Red Cross
Volunteers make up about 90% of the American Red Cross’s employment force. Many of the volunteer roles with the American Red Cross include things like fundraising, marketing, and babysitting education.
Volunteering in retirement offers a host of benefits to you and your community. Consider how local organizations can best use your skills and search for opportunities that fit your qualifications.
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