Volunteering is at the top of many retirees to-do list after leaving work. Studies make it clear that the desire to give back something to others and the community is a powerful force that brings all sorts of benefits to both the volunteers and the object of their help.
Over the 17 years of my retirement I have been deeply involved in prison ministry, the United Way, Junior Achievement teaching, lay ministry, and serving on the board of directors for the friends of the library organization in our town. Each has allowed me to use different skills or personality traits. Each has left a meaningful and lasting impression on me, and I hope, others.
Of course, many seniors cannot perform any type of physical volunteer work due to health limitations. If you are caring full time for a grandchild or two, enough free time may not be available. Volunteering is a gift we can give to others, but not one that need put ourselves in harm's way. There is absolutely no reason to feel guilty if active volunteering doesn't fit with your abilities or lifestyle. There are many other ways to give back to the community that could form the basis of a future post.
If you are able and motivated, volunteering brings some risks, or unintended consequences, that should be considered before raising your hand. One of the most common "mistakes" newly retired folks make is overcommitment. It is very easy to say "yes" too many times and find yourself as harried and pressed for time as you were before retirement. When you realize you bit off more than you can chew, you might experience a feeling of guilt for having to back away from something you agreed to do.
So, what are other some guidelines to consider before you join the ranks of retired volunteers?
1) Will a particular opportunity allow you to help a cause or organization you care deeply about? To volunteer just to do so usually doesn't work. There has to be a good fit between you and the organization you have agreed to help. If you have good feelings about the group's mission, if it pulls on your heartstrings, you are much more likely to be satisfied by your donation of time and energy.
2) Will the time you are donating affect your life in a negative way? I don't mean in terms of less time available for television or reading or other leisure activities. Rather, if you are agreeing to give up several hours a week, or per day, will any important part of your life suffer? That could include key relationships or taking care of your health. It could leave you too tired to do other things that are important to you. Remember that some volunteer positions require training. That becomes part of your time donation, too.
3) Instead of a long term arrangement are you more comfortable with a series of one time activities? Over the years I have found several opportunities to help distribute registration kits for a 5k run, or help monitor the course of a fun run my grandson was part of. Each involved no more than 2 hours. I was able to help out on those one time events without a major commitment.
4) Do you have the necessary skills to help both the organization and feel satisfied yourself? An example: I think the work that Habitat for Humanity does is tremendous. But, my skill set doesn't include building or remodeling homes. I have helped HFH a few times, but only on the end-of-project cleanup stage. I know my limitations. Know what you are singing up for before agreeing to help.
5) Following the previous point, will you be able to take a "trial run?" Can you attend a session, sit in on a class, or watch the work being done at the Food Bank before you agree to volunteer? I was set to help teach English to recent immigrants. After monitoring one class I decided not to proceed. Why? It was obvious that to truly help these folks I would have be very comfortable listening and responding in Spanish. I was disappointed but knew I would not be able to serve to these folks the way they deserved to be helped.
Share you stories of volunteering, both the ones that worked out well, and those that didn't. We learn from each other.