Gold Years Volunteering

By Anica Wong

December 15, 2014 4 min read

For many, retirement is a time to relax and catch up on all of the books that you didn't have time to read between your job and raising kids. Retirement is for cruises and beach vacations, time spent with friends and cribbage. But your golden years can also be a great time for volunteering, especially if you haven't done so before.

"Senior volunteers make a significant impact in volunteering because they are able to impart their lifetime of skills and experiences to benefit our communities' pressing needs," says Ursula Walsh, OneOC's director of volunteer services.

OneOC, a full-service nonprofit resource center located in Orange County, California, is one of many organizations around the country that works alongside the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP. This program is one of the largest volunteer networks for people 55 or older, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, its parent organization. RSVP helps seniors become active in their community, connecting them with others and developing their skills.

OneOC was on board with RSVP because of the area's growing population of seniors. Walsh says there are currently 387,600 seniors living in Orange County. This number will increase to 800,000 by 2025. And Orange County is not alone in an aging population. According to the Administration on Aging, those 65 or older were 13 percent of the overall population in 2010. That number will jump to 16.1 percent in 2020 and will hit almost 20 percent by 2030.

With more people in this demographic, there are so many opportunities for them to retain a sense of purpose and give back to their communities through volunteering. "Research shows that individuals giving time and talent are protecting their overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease," says Walsh. "In older adults, volunteering has been shown to reduce their mortality rate by 44 percent."

But if you have never volunteered before (and want the health benefits and the glow that come with giving your time and talent), how do you find the right spot for you? Walsh suggests looking to see whether there is a local RSVP chapter that can help you find a good match.

If you're out of range of RSVP, decide what you are passionate about and seek out organizations that are aligned with the causes you support. If you like four-legged friends, check in with your local animal shelter and see if they need dog walkers (remember to choose tasks that are physically comfortable for you). If you would rather work with kids, see whether your area elementary school needs someone to tidy up the library or read to students.

Churches, parks and police stations typically have structured volunteer opportunities for seniors. If you have access to the Internet, VolunteerMatch.com is a great database of volunteer activities in your area. Simply type in your location and the types of causes you care about, and the website will pull up all of the relevant opportunities. It even lets you search by date, if you have a specific timeframe that you are available to volunteer.

In 2013, RSVP volunteers in Orange County gave 191,000 hours in community service, totally over $4.7 million to their local community, according to Walsh. Volunteering is the gift that keeps on giving, no matter your age.

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