Older Americans Lead The Way With Volunteer Spirit

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

June 6, 2008 5 min read


Older Americans lead the way with volunteer spirit

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

Copley News Service

Whether they're volunteering to man disaster call centers, serving as business mentors, giving zoo tours or building houses for Habitat for Humanity, today's older Americans are reshaping retirement.

That rocking chair is going empty as seniors lend their expertise, time and labor to help a cross-section of nonprofit and community organizations, individuals and faith-based groups here and worldwide. They are being aided by the Internet, which has opened new vistas for volunteering, be it locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

Tying much of the volunteer opportunities together in the United States is the Corporation for National and Community Services, an independent federal agency created in 1993 to connect Americans of all ages and backgrounds with opportunities to give back to their communities and the nation. The agency oversees several federally sponsored programs to encourage and support volunteerism, among them Senior Corps, that coordinates the Foster Grandparent Program, the Senior Companion Program and RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program).

Like other groups trying to create a friendly climate for volunteers, the corporation is keeping an eye on the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) who are or will be approaching retirement. As the next generation of retirees, the baby boomers are already showing a nationwide inclination toward volunteering, a corporation study shows, with the greatest percentages in Minnesota, Utah, Nebraska and Kansas where nearly half the baby boomers are involved in volunteer activities.

Among those 65 and older, the study found the greatest percentages of volunteers in Utah, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Kansas. Nevada had the lowest rate of baby boomer and older adult volunteers.

"A greater percentage of American adults are volunteering today than at any other time in the past 30 years," the corporation says.

"This increase is a critically important development because volunteering is no longer just nice to do," it adds, citing the nation's needs to deal with an array of social issues, from poverty and illiteracy to disasters and homelessness. "It is also an important part of maintaining the health of our citizens, as research consistently shows that those who volunteer, especially those 65 years and older, lead healthier lives than those who do not engage in their communities."

Volunteer opportunities are as near as your telephone. A call to a local nonprofit organization such as a senior center, community hospital, museum or charity can bring retirees a quick response. But before agreeing to serve as a volunteer, make sure you get answers to some basic questions, such as:

- Who does the organization serve?

- What types of volunteer positions do they have?

- What type of training do they provide for volunteers?

- What kind of time commitment do they expect?

For current state-by-state information on volunteer opportunities for those 55 and older, check out www.volunteermatch.org, an online network of nearly 58,000 non-profits that matches thousands of volunteers to volunteer opportunities every day. It also provides a "virtual" search that allows you to volunteer from home, via your computer, for volunteer positions as diverse as a grant writer or a Web master. Another popular Internet site, www.idealist.org, brings you information on volunteering worldwide.

You also can learn more about of volunteering opportunities if you were a member of a professional organization before retiring. If you're a teacher, for example, you may want to check out the National Education Association-Retired. It has established an intergenerational teacher-mentoring program that pairs retirees to students in need of extra help. The Pennsylvania Bankers Association now offers a Retired Bankers Program that allows retirees to share their professional expertise with those still in the field.

? Copley News Service

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