October 9, 2017

Retirement & Volunteering Our Time

When this post was first written almost six years ago, it generated a lot of comments and follow up emails. The subject of volunteering is an important one for many retirees.  I thought it was worth a revisit, with some fresh thoughts from me. 

As the triple digit temperatures slowly leave Phoenix, my thoughts turn to more outside activities and involvement. Long time readers know I was involved with prison ministry for several years. It was challenging and satisfying work. I have worked as a tour guide at Frank Lloyd Wight's Arizona home, Taliesin West. For the last two years I have spent time on a United Way Steering Committee attempting to find new ways to help retirees find a good match volunteer opportunities.

Starting in two weeks I will begin teaching a Junior Achievement class to a group of 5th graders. I must have some of my mom's genes since teaching seems to agree with me.


I Need You

I know many of you are active volunteers in all sorts of ways. So, I would deeply appreciate you responding in the comment section below with answers to any of these questions (if they apply to your volunteer situation):

1. What volunteer work do you do?
2. How did you decide this was a good fit?
3. Did try a few different things before you found one that fit you?
4. Have there been any drawbacks?

Like everyone else, I am very interested in learning about the wide variety of volunteer opportunities that exist for us. I bet there will be things I have never thought of that would be a tremendous way to give back to my community while feeling good about myself.

So, please, anything you do to help....let us know. Teaching Sunday school, walking a neighbor's dog because she can't, school crossing guard......it doesn't have to be as dramatic as working with prison inmates ,but it might be! Our society has more needs than we have volunteers.

Do you know someone who is an inspiration in this area but he or she doesn't normally read this blog? Could I ask you a favor:  would you ask them to come over this one time and tell us about what they do?

Let's build a list of your ways to give back and inspire someone to put a spark into their satisfying retirement.


27 comments:

  1. Hi Bob,

    When I first retired six years ago I had three volunteer activities lined up at the get go because I was very nervous about filling my time. I gave them all up within three months because I realized very quickly I was not ready to have any one make demands on my time so soon after retiring.

    About three years later I signed up to teach computer classes at our Lifelong Learniung program, then somehow found myself on the Board as well. I enjoyed both, but they were very long and big commitments that ended up interfering with our robust travel schedule so after about 18 months I backed away from both.

    Currently I am volunteering for two ocean/marine life education and preservation organizations in our new town, and I love it. I am primarily outdoors interacting with the public as I assist in their learning about our local marine life, as well as teaching them how they can help to preserve it. The cadre of volunteers in both organizations are dynamic, passionate folk and we have lots of lecture and social opportunities at which to mingle and get to know each other better. Pretty sure these are the 'keepers' that will keep us engaged for years to come.

    Conversely, my spouse is involved in some rather serious volunteer activities in addition to the fairly non-serious volunteering we do together above. He feels the need to give back more substantially, which I deeply admire even as I don't feel the same pull to go there myself at this time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your volunteer resume is important because it demonstrates the changeable nature of our decisions. I'm afraid too many folks feel "stuck" in a volunteer position that is not satisfying or a good match, but they are hesitant to quit the commitment. It does neither side in that situation any good if both aren't benefiting from the relationship.

      Volunteering is an important part of retirement, but it comes with the freedom to change your mind. A good example from my life just happened a few days ago. I had decided to work as a volunteer at the local arts center. But, as orientation day approached I had second thoughts about my desire to stand for 3 hours a a time and have to buy a black sports coat to match the dress code! I rescinded my offer and am glad I did. The opportunity sounds good on paper, but doesn't match up with my physical condition at this time or the appeal of guiding people to their seats or selling popcorn during intermission.

      Delete
  2. Great question and the point you make about the type of volunteering we do evolving and changing over time is a good one. For many years in our previous location I volunteered heavily with my Friends of the Library group. Served as President and Membership chair, managed the fundraising book sales and sorted through donated books and media. Since our move I have only gotten involved in a one time volunteer activity associated with a fundraising for the animal shelter. I'm ready to find something as interesting, engaging and socially stimulating as Tamara describes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. THere are so many ways to volunteer our time, it is important we spend the time to find the right fit for that point in our lives. I just left the United Way committee I referenced in this post after a two year stint. The goal of involving retirees in United Way is a laudable goal but proving very difficult inside the organization's structure. I thought the time had come to open up my board slot to someone else.

      What's next? I am looking!

      Delete
  3. When my mom was at independent living I turned my love for crafts into a weekly activity for the residents. It's amazing how thinly stretched an Activities Director is and giving her an hour a week (even if it's calling out BINGO numbers) was appreciated.

    Once my mom passed, I was lost and filled my volunteering time with ushering at community art centers (and then stayed to see the productions for free!), donating blood (reaching my 10 gallon goal), sharing cuttings from my gardens (and finally getting to know my neighbors).

    Of course volunteering doesn't have to be a job...I find activities such as returning shopping carts, driving the speed limit, truely listening to others, etc...all to be activities that I relish because I never felt I had the time to do so when I worked.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kcli, I really appreciate your last paragraph, a way to approach volunteering in a manner I'd not thought of. Thank you!

      Delete
    2. I echo Tamara's comments. When Betty and I walk around our neighborhood with our dog, we take poop bags for her business. Last week I thought that I'd start carrying an extra bag or two to pick up trash we see during our walk. Kids at a school bus stop or landscape workers who drop cigarette butts and wrappers are generally not a big problem. But, on weekends or Monday mornings, I will notice enough litter to prompt me to clean up a bit. My neighbors don't need to know but it helps everyone feel good about our homes. That is an example of a "volunteer" activity any of us can do.

      Delete
  4. For the first few years of retirement I did everything from serving on the BOD for a domestic abuse/rape crisis organization to giving classes on gardening to running the Master Gardener booth at the local farmers market. When my husband was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia, a rare form of dementia, my volunteer activities were replaced with caregiver responsibilities. I still volunteer as a class liaison at our local OLLI, but I miss the engagement the other volunteer assignments offered. While I sometimes meet up with people who are overwhelmed with the demands of some volunteer organizations, I feel like volunteering enriches our lives in so many ways. I always felt I received more than I was giving.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Volunteer work is the best paying job you will ever have, without the hassle of taxes! The smiles and joy you bring others make volunteers very well compensated. I agree completely that the simple act of helping others enriches the human experience.

      Delete
  5. I am freshly retired so volunteering is (or will be) an topic of interest to me after I do a bit of recharging.

    My wife and I deliver meals on wheels to those who have challenges looking after themselves. We originally got into it in part because my wife worked for the agency that coordinated the program and knew they needed help, and in part because my parents helped with the same program and enjoyed it.

    We are also part of a marriage preparation team that helps young couples prepare for married life. While no marriage is absolutely perfect, we feel we have had a pretty successful 26 years together and want to help combat the high rate of marriage breakdown.

    In the past I have coached competitive youth basketball teams. While the program I coached for is no longer around, I am considering putting the word out to local elementary schools that I would be available to referee games. It would help me to continue that teaching aspect to some degree, would help keep me fit, and I know how hard it is to line up competent refs for these games sometimes.

    Finally, I may eventually look around for an opportunity on a local board of some kind. I developed a skill set over my career that would likely be of some help in that capacity, as long as it is "fun" for me. It may sound a bit selfish, but I am not really interested in anything high stress, such as making decisions about laying people off etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Dave, for an excellent review of the various types of volunteer activities that exist. Betty and I did meals on wheels delivery, too, for a few years. Often, we were the only human contact those folks had all week.

      Since you just retired, take the time to recharge and refresh. Your mind and body need the break. Then, based on your experiences and talents, something in the volunteer world will become obvious to you.

      Best of luck, and congrats on 26 years of marriage!

      Delete
  6. My career has been in university academic medicine. Teaching and administering. You would think that going from employment to voluntary work on the hospital side would be a "no brainer". And you would be wrong.

    I was told by several people to never volunteer. Why? When one has retired you are basically "old". With wide-ranging experiences and knowledge of the "system" the old person volunteer sees things that could be changed or improved or used to save time and/or money. However, you are now "old" so your thoughts and suggestions don't matter because you are not paid to think- just volunteer to go where "they" send you.

    I have never volunteered in the hospital. But these are stories I have heard over and over again from other academics and physicians in meetings or over coffee. From people who have volunteered or hoped to. Very interesting and sad. And I have heard the same type thing from others across the country. And probably in other venues as well.

    When I retired 10 years ago I was a "cuddler"in the Neo-Natal unit for 3 years. Enjoyed the "work" several days a week. Others there as well and made some good friends. Life and moving got in the way as they say, but I did enjoy the time spent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand your concerns and you may be right. Maybe the best bet is to not volunteer in a place in the same field where one used to work, unless it is in the capacity of being a consultant or someone who is being used because of their knowledge, not in spite of it.

      I will admit I can relate to the problems you detail. I learned early on that I don't "play well" with others in a corporate setting. My tendency to critique procedures and suggest changes didn't often go over well. That is why I eventually opened my own business and had only myself to deal with.

      Volunteering is about finding the right fit, and that might be in a field very different from how we earned our living. I know there aren't very many volunteer opportunities in radio stations, so I am in good shape!

      Delete
  7. I am one of those who feels fairly strongly that with all going on in the world, those of us who have the time in retirement should be as willing to effect change as talk about it (and I mean beyond voting). I am also one of those who feels or aknowledges that not all volunteering is always "uplifting" and that's as it should be (I'm sure your prison ministry experience can attest to that fact). That said,I do believe that it takes time to find the perfect fit that meshes with our personal skills/time availablilty/cause and so I think that people who are newly retired should not jump in with both feet in terms of long term committment-if only because it's not fair to the volunteer organization. I personally spend a half a day a week working with seniors in poverty, and a half a day a week actively working with refugees and undocumented immigrants (besides advocacy). I do have to say here (since I've seen it commented on many times in many blogs), that most volunteer organizations are run primarily by volunteers or non business people. So when I see comments about "inefficiency" or "bad business practices", unless you're talking about the Red Cross or something that large, my general answer is "then be part of the board and help change things" or "donate more to charities so they can afford to hire professionals".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The prison ministry work was fulfilling but quite stressful. There are dangerous people and conditions involved and not every man who got into the problem belonged there. Even so, I am very glad I did that work for several years.

      Your final comment about finding a solution to a management problem within an organization is important. Many of us come from a more highly structured business environment, thus finding the volunteer-run version lacking. Trying to put yourself in a position to help it operate better is a good one. That may not be easy, but worth the effort.

      Delete
  8. I am a big believer in volunteerism and service to the community. My dad was a bilateral amputee who volunteered in many capacities and his example is very likely an incentive to me. I volunteered prior to my retirement and I see my volunteerism now as my "work". Like Kathy, I usually receive more than I give. Volunteerism satisfies my need to be of service, to use my time productively, to give back to my community, to socialize. I concur with Kcli who says that returning the shopping carts is an expression of volunteerism, just like you, Bob, picking up garbage on your walks. Like Barbara says, be the change. I often wonder what would happen in the world if all the acts of volunteerism were removed from the equation? Didn't we all "volunteer" our time at our formal jobs at one time or another? Shortly after I retired, I did some work with Habitat for Humanity 2 hrs away from my home. It's an organization close to my heart because I believe everyone needs a home. I am a Home Routes host, opening my home 6 times a year to folk singers from across North America and inviting an audience to listen to them. I am an active member in a local community association that manages a recreation area and hosts an amateur rodeo. I volunteer with the local elementary school as a "dignitary" - a program that connects the school with the community and the community with the school. I "volunteer within my family, providing a weekly meal for an extended family member who is undergoing dialysis, caring for grandkids, offering rides to appointments for my aged mom. Volunteering checks off a lot of boxes for me and the volunteer commitments ground my week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a great list of various volunteer engagements. Home Routes Host is one I have never heard of but sounds fascinating. I see it is Canadian which explains my lack of awareness! Betty and I helped build a few houses in the Habitat for Humanity program. We were inspired by Jimmy Carter's work with this group.

      We have two members of our small group at church who are severely restricted with their mobility. Occasional shopping is simple for us and a major help for them. It isn't that hard to find ways to help.

      Delete
  9. Hi Bob
    Since I retired 18 months ago after 30 +, years in education,I have volunteered with several organizations ... I gave them a year. Now that my wife has retired, I have "resigned" so we can come and go freely. I also did a lot of work with at risk youth. I did not find it as rewarding as I had hoped. Lkely, it was too close to my previous career.
    One thing I have learned,after working with the homeless and drug addicted, is to be very grateful for my middle class lifestyle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Brent, one of the "benefits" of volunteering can be an affirmation of the "but for the grace of God" saying. I felt the same way with the men in prison and after they were released but still faced enormous challenges. Being able to get in my car and drive home after a session was something most of them would never experience.

      Delete
  10. I volunteer with our community association, local ski resort as an ski instructor, and river kayaking safety with my local kayak club. These are 3 passions of mine that I really just didn't have time to do as much as I would have liked while I was working. I really haven't found any drawbacks, however, if I'm not careful I find I can easily get overcommitted. The way I deal with that is to make as few absolute time commitments as possible. If a date/time commitment is absolutely necessary, I put it on my calendar as a "red" appointment. Otherwise, I put it on my calendar as a "blue" appointment and attend if I feel moved to. I try to keep the "red" appointments to a minimum, schedule them for afternoons when I might otherwise just be napping, and/or late enough in the morning that I don't have to set an alarm. Of course, I'm not always successful with all these "constraints", but it helps. After all, my dream of retirement was to be able to wake up when I wanted (no alarm) and do what moved me on any given day! Trying to fit all this in with housekeeping and exercise makes me wonder how I ever got anything done while I was working full time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The red and blue indicators are good ideas. It is very easy to over-commit. Sometimes when I get an email with a list of charity/volunteer options I feel a bit like a kid in a candy store. I have to remind myself of what is already on my schedule (red on yours!) and let other things pass by.

      I know a few folks who would jump at the chance to be involved with river kayaking, my wife being one.

      Delete
  11. Both DH and I waited quite a while after retiring to find some volunteer activity that we wanted to do. He ended up training and volunteering for our County Search & Rescue Team. It's pretty strenuous training and the calls can come at all hours, but he loves it. Of course, he can also mark himself "out" when we leave town, he's ill, etc. So far it's a good fit.

    I waited over a year after retiring and decided to do Hospice Training - probably to be a caregiver respite worker or friendly companion, but also might get into the music side or helping write life stories. We're just over halfway through our training (it's quite thorough and interesting) and I'm hoping this is a good fit for me. Our family has used hospice on several occasions and I always think it's such a valuable service. My one concern is not getting burned out but I'll just have to take it as it comes.
    --Hope

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Hope, for adding two very interesting volunteer activities. I have known one man who did search and rescue but he (and I) were much younger! That is an important but tough thing to do.

      Our local hospice organization was so great when they worked with my mom during the last months of her life. Those are very special people.

      Delete
  12. First, I'm new to blogging, so forgive any faux pas, please!

    I retired, then immediately downsized and moved, without any definite plans other than to explore volunteer opportunities in my new community. Our family has a strong public service/military background, and I knew one goal was to help veterans. I'm now a Service Officer with the American Legion and help veterans and their dependents with their disability compensation claims. I've also just started with a literacy council helping those new readers find gainful employment. At first, I overbooked myself and was beginning to feel as if I were back in the workforce, but then looked closely at my schedules, adjusted and tweaked them, to find a balance for volunteering and me!

    One difficult aspect of my retirement is that as a training manager for a state organization I had developed great skills/certifications/expertise that I still wanted to use to help others find jobs, seek better careers, learn about themselves, etc. However, I really didn't want to replicate my paying job in retirement, so now I occasionally slip in related advice with those I help in my two volunteer gigs.

    I'm lucky to be in an area that offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities (this area is a hotbed of nonprofits!), and I hope to divvy up my time in this way for years to come.

    This is a very helpful site and I plan to share it with other retirees. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And thank you for taking the time go comment, Chris. I applaud your work with veterans. Too often they are overlooked after their service to all of us.

      Overscheduling oneself early in retirement is extremely common, in fact, maybe a universal trait. We get so excited by the freedom to use our time as we see fit that we are kind of like a kid in a candy store: our eyes are bigger than our stomach!

      But, you have discovered, it is important to achieve a balance and not be so busy that you can't enjoy all the benefits of retirement and the new freedom it brings.

      Welcome to the Satisfying Retirement family.

      Delete
  13. Hi Bob, I'm a bit late getting to this. I teach classes at the local Senior College, serve on my town's Conservation Commission, work as a Master Gardener Volunteer (mostly answering gardening questions that people contact the local cooperative extension office with), and do some volunteering as part of my local garden club (mostly giving garden talks). It took me a while after I retired to find the "good fit" activities. Eventually I figured out that volunteering did not need to be a form of self-sacrifice, that I could make a contribution by doing things I enjoy. -Jean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a great list of activities for someone who obviously loves nature (and teaching other seniors). I don't know what it entails, but I gather being a Master Gardener Volunteer takes a rather serious level of expertise.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted