Then there’s the crossover between mental and physical health. In 2009, in a study using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that older adults who participated in a youth mentoring program experienced a boost in their cognitive abilities to plan and organize. Who couldn’t use a little help in that area?!
Here are a few excerpts of stories from top-flight volunteers about how and why they do what they do:
– In a NextAvenue article, Colorado resident Marc Olson describes how he lends a hand in his community with theater set design, computer troubleshooting, and home repair needs, among others. “One of the fun things I do as a volunteer is to help design and build the sets for my church’s spring and fall musicals,” he says. “The last one we did was a melodrama. I don’t know yet what our next one will be… I guess it’s up to me to write some emails and get it started! It keeps me busy and it’s satisfying to solve problems and help people.”
– On Idealist Idealists in Action blog, former teacher Rhoda Cordry talks about the foundation she started when she first retired in 1987 to help restore and publicize her small town’s approximately two-dozen historic mineral springs. “I spent all my working years teaching elementary school, so that was child- and parent-focused,” she says. “But this was a whole new world! I learned a whole new set of skills, met wonderful people, and benefited greatly from it. I loved teaching, but I loved this, too. People asked what I wanted to do in retirement, and I said ‘I don’t know!’ So I’m glad this happened.”
– Salute To Senior Service hosts a video dedicated to Lubbock, Texas’s Ernest Bradbury, who spends his free time comforting the residents of his local hospice. “I have to soften some of them up before they’ll talk,” he says. “But when I can get them to talk, it makes them feel better. Then I feel better, too. Sometimes they can’t talk and you don’t know if they can hear you. But then you’ll say something funny and they give you a smile, and then it’s worth all the time you put in.”
What’s out there & where to look
Excited to look for your own gig? Volunteers can work with many different types of organizations. Here’s a sample to get you thinking about what might suit you best:
- Nonprofit organizations
- Colleges and universities
- Companies (those who organize volunteer opportunities for current employees are sometimes able to include former staff members in their programs)
- Faith groups
- Government agencies (like the United Nations and Peace Corps)
Once you’re ready to start perusing, here are three great places to find opportunities:
The Corporation for National & Community Service runs a program called Senior Corps that connects the 55-plus crowd with the people and organizations that need them most. Participants can become mentors, coaches, or companions to people in need, or contribute their skills to community projects and organizations. Volunteers receive guidance and training so they can make a contribution that suits their talents, interests, and availability.
The AARP Foundation specializes in matching retired folks who want to volunteer with other seniors in need of help. You can enter your zip code on their website and see any current opportunities in your area.
And you can search over a database of over 13,000 current volunteer opportunities worldwide—by specific criteria like location, time commitment, languages spoken, area of focus, and many more—on nonprofit hub Idealist.org.
No matter which volunteer avenue you choose to go down, there are many rewards to be had—both for you and the people and causes you’ll help. So what are you waiting for? Retirement is the time!