Experience The Power of Serving Your Community Where You Live
Fifty years ago, flower children marched for civil rights and opposed an unpopular war, generating a synergy that changed American society. Today, long hair gives way to bald spots, and yoga pants replace granny dresses, but baby boomers haven’t lost their dedication to community. Characteristically healthy, energetic, and involved, they are retiring not to beachcomb but to make a difference. "Boomers have a sense of giving back," says Trudy Harris, herself a boomer and executive director and co-founder of Team Giving, a nonprofit that matches skilled volunteers with nonprofits. "It’s even more important to our generation because we did so much."
Retired preschool teacher Alice Ross always knew she'd give back. "I told myself when I retired I was going to volunteer because I wanted to help other people," she says. She serves patrons at Twin Lakes Food Bank and her church thrift shop. "I hear people’s stories. They are so grateful for what we do. It’s fulfilling to me."
Nonprofits welcome older volunteers because they tend to be reliable, happy, and focused, Harris says. But volunteering rewards the giver, too. Here are seven reasons you might want to reach out:
1) You become relevant again.
Find fulfillment sharing the skills you’ve acquired. Over the years, Team Giving has recruited boomer volunteers to share their experiences and perspectives with younger volunteers. At Eskaton, a community-based nonprofit that offers all levels of care for seniors, volunteers invest their skills to enhance the quality of life for residents and participants through classes in French, art, exercise, and more."The volunteers always say they receive more than they give," says Community Engagement Manager Darlene Cullivan.
2) You help counter loneliness.
Studies have shown that isolation among older people can increase death risk. Volunteers—like Meals on Wheels drivers, Marshall Medical Center volunteer drivers, and Eskaton’s compassionate companions—may be a recipient’s only regular contact. "A visit by a volunteer can hugely impact a day for someone living alone," says Valeri Mihanovich, director at The Regional Center for Volunteerism- HandsOn Sacramento—a full-service volunteer action center.
3) You’ll be socializing.
Helping people also lessens the giver's isolation. "I've made a lot of friends volunteering," Ross says. Places like Marshall Medical Center ensures its volunteers have chances to meet.
4) You can help build a better community.
Civic opportunities abound to leave this world a better place. "We need people to help solve problems in the community, too," Mihanovich says. Consider serving on commissions, advocating for the homeless, reading to schoolchildren, or beautifying playgrounds.
5) You can share your passion.
Retired nurse Nellie Loo is committed to two causes—the military, which she helps through Blue Star Moms by raising money for care packages for service members, and making someone’s day with handmade greeting cards that a craft group she formed donates to the Friends of the Folsom Library and Kaiser patients. "We know we're making a difference," Loo says. "We're doing something good."
6) You might improve your health.
Focusing on someone or something else reduces stress, which in turn can strengthen your immune system. "Older people who volunteer have less incidence of illness," says Harris. "Their overall well-being and social skills are enhanced."
7) You can try out a new career.
Younger boomers can learn new job skills or preview a career switch by volunteering in their field of interest. Older boomers who longed for a different path can now follow it. "Choose a group that fits what you like to do," counsels Loo. Kelly Murray, Marshall's volunteer coordinator, served as a hospital candy striper in her teens. Now she loves "being able to pass that on to other people."
By Linda Holderness
If you’re unsure where to focus your volunteer efforts, these suggestions might inspire you.
Team Giving and The Regional Center for Volunteerism-HandsOn Sacramento are two good places to start. Browse the websites and choose a project that fits your skills and schedule. Commit for one day or long-term. teamgiving.org; handsonsacto.org
Faithful Stewards is another aggregate site. Help the less fortunate by choosing from a variety of ministries. faithfulstewards.net
Eskaton employs over 2,000 volunteers. Positions include making friendly phone calls to seniors who live alone, teaching classes, playing music, and more. eskaton.org
At Marshall Medical Center, volunteers from ages 14-91 provide information and comfort to patients and their families, transport patients, serve as health coaches, and assist in offices through various volunteer programs. The hospital's newest program sends volunteers and their certified hospital dogs for snuggly patient visits. "Volunteers love it, and the emotional response from patients is so rewarding," Murray says. marshallmedical.org
The Harris Center in Folsom needs ushers, office and education assistants, and art gallery docents. harriscenter.net
No military connection is required to help at Blue Star Moms, just the desire to support people who serve. The organization's gift boxes are distributed to service members in need. bluestarmothers.org/locate-a-chapter