Volunteer in Retirement… Why?

By Tamrah Jordan

Your children are grown. You’ve retired from working. Now what do you do with so much time on your hands? Consider volunteering. Why? Volunteering has proven emotional and physical benefits, plus you can bring a lot to an organization with your time, talents, and experiences.

According to a study done by the Corporation for National and Community Services, volunteering may lower the risk of health problems in seniors, such as dementia and depression. It gives many seniors a sense of purpose and greater satisfaction in life. It keeps the brain and body active. For many people once they stop working, they lose many social connections. The study indicates that about 85 percent of people who volunteer after retiring develop new friendships through their volunteer activities. And especially for those who live in a rural area, volunteering keeps them from becoming isolated.

Michelle Kaufman retired in 2015 from the New York Police Department where she worked for 35 years, most as an associate investigator. She now volunteers with the American Red Cross in Charlotte, N.C. though she has deployed several times to volunteer at disasters around the country. In addition to volunteering for disaster response, Kaufman volunteers as a driver transporting life-saving blood products to hospitals within the region, a volunteer position she wishes more people would do. She says that volunteering with the Red Cross keeps her young, her mind occupied, and her life full of surprises. “Could today be the day I’ll get a fire call or to be deployed,” said Kaufman.

In a Nov. 15, 2015 U.S. News & World Report column, author Tom Sightings says that many volunteers feel that giving back to society means they make a difference in the lives of others, with 70 percent of retirees also saying being generous provides them a significant source of happiness. With this, Kaufman agrees wholeheartedly. While she finds it difficult to put into words exactly what she gets out of volunteering, she says that to get a huge hug from a client she has helped makes volunteering worthwhile.

On Kaufman’s first deployment with the Red Cross, she was sent to Louisiana where she met a 4 year-old boy named Damien. Kaufman and her partner went to what was left of Damien’s house after it was impacted by a tornado. While her partner took a report, she played with Damien. “He was so happy his tricycle was in one piece and he wanted to show it to me. He rode around in circles and then would run over to me and give me a huge hug. He did this umpteen times until my partner was done. I shall never forget that day or Damien. That is what it’s all about.” She never forgets the hugs from people, especially the kids, who minutes before were strangers.

Organizations benefit from the skills seniors bring with them. To train new employees with some of the skills senior volunteers bring could cost plenty, not to mention the time involved. Many organizations can put experienced seniors right to work teaching younger staff or volunteers, maybe even help bridge the generation gap at an organization. There are many places to volunteer, such as with a non-profit, a place of worship, or retirement communities to name a few. And as many places, there are even more opportunities. Many organizations need office help. Some need drivers. The Red Cross needs disaster responders and nurses. Many volunteer opportunities work around your schedule. There are also opportunities that, once trained, can be done from home. Find something you are passionate about and will enjoy. It’s never too late to volunteer!

Says Kaufman, “People who do not volunteer, will never know the feeling of a full heart knowing you’ve helped someone or something.”