We have much to offer. We are experienced in our fields, both in our professional and avocational areas of interest. We are wise—or at least we should be. Many of us have been successful and many of us enjoy good health with a decent measure of financial security and free time. Volunteering is a way of “giving back” to our world and our society. Simply put, volunteering means using our time to devote our talents, experience, education to the service of other people or institutions. It serves them but it really serves and benefits us.
It serves them but it really serves and benefits us.
Sometimes we volunteer in areas where we have specific professional
expertise. Sometimes we volunteer in areas where we have interest and
knowledge and experience but which were never our areas of employment. For example, there are folks who have backgrounds in construction trades volunteering with Habitat for Humanity building or repairing homes for poor families by partnering with them. As a former educator, I have volunteered to teach English to refugees and once spent a year as Director of a small bilingual school overseas. People with computer skills, management skills, editing ability, etc. can contribute to those skills in organizations that are in desperate need.
Sometimes we volunteer in areas that are more avocational. For example, I have taught kayaking to inner-city children and yoga in a variety of settings. I never made money or worked professionally as a kayak guide or yoga teacher but have had interest and passion in both for decades. We all have such interests and hobbies. It could be knitting, sewing, fishing, rafting, hiking, camping, working on cars, archery, etc. So, basically volunteering is offering our skills in a way that helps and supports others. It is a medium to make the world better by doing what we love and know.
It is a medium to make world better by doing what we love and
Another aspect of volunteering is that it really benefits us. As people, we need meaning in our lives. We need to know that we matter and that we are doing something beneficial with our lives. As we move beyond midlife, we need to challenge ourselves while continuing to grow and learning new things. It is also imperative to have social connections. Volunteering brings us all of these benefits. By volunteering, I have made friends literally around the world, as well as in my own home city. I have felt like my day mattered when I came home after teaching some inner-city kids how to kayak or how to shoot safely on an archery range.
Where to Volunteer?
Many organizations are in desperate need of help. For example, most city schools would love help with after-school tutoring or activities or helping coach some sports. I may be prejudiced because I have spent over 40 years working in schools as a teacher, principal, and superintendent. And, it does require one to “jump through some hopes” to work in a school (such as a criminal background check and child abuse clearance). There are a number of anti-poverty programs that need people to fix homes or do winterization. Many Social service agencies require people to do everything from filling, manning the phones, to direct service. Many of the national parks need volunteer guides, campground hosts, maintenance people, etc. The needs and opportunities are almost endless. So, while making friends and
doing meaningful work, we are also directly supporting important community organizations and, most importantly, we serve the people.
There is a plethora of groups, webpages, organizations that help recruit
volunteers and match them with community needs. For example, I have
personally used volunteermatch.org, volunteer.gov, and idealist.org. The Huffington Post ran an article, which was updated on December 6, 2017, that lists 13 websites that match people with volunteer opportunities. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/volunteering-websites_n_4551665).
Personally, because I have been so involved with children my entire life, I took volunteering work with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which operates in every state in the U.S. Also as mentioned above, Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful place for folks with building or related skills to volunteer. I am also involved with a local wildlife refuge that is located minutes from my house as a volunteer in environmental education programs and many others are at the refuge, which is under the auspices of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, weeding, xing the tractors, leading bird, tree and wildlife walks and working and the reception desk. I have also volunteered to teach English to refugees and to run a school in Costa Rica. Both of these were directly related to my professional experience, expertise, degrees, etc. The opportunities seem limitless.
Starting A New Chapter
An entirely new world opened up to me after I retired. I had been
interested in yoga for decades and had an intermittent practice. But, at my annual checkup when I was 60 my doctor suggested that I run less (I confess to being an addicted ultramarathon runner.) and do more yoga because, he argued, at this stage in my life I need to focus on balance and flexibility. I followed his advice.
Shortly after retiring, I took a yoga teacher training program. I fell in love with it. It felt weird, yes! I was the only male in my yoga teacher training and, by decades, the oldest. However, this has opened new worlds of opportunities for me. I have volunteered as a yoga teacher in a number of settings including a BIPOC group in Philadelphia who taught me more than I could ever have imagined. Yoga teaching has also taken me to Peru, where I now teach regularly in a yoga teacher training program that allows me to use my interest and graduate-level education in philosophy and my decades-long experience as a meditator.
Yoga teaching also took me and my partner to Colombia where we taught yoga to both children and adults in a newly formed eco-community. So maybe it is time to pursue an interest, to take on
some new training and learn something new that you can share.
So maybe it is time to pursue an interest, to take on
some new training and learn something new that you can share.
Beyond the Obvious
I had always wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago, across Northern Spain for over 25 years. The day I retired, I booked a night to Spain and spent a month walking the Camino. When I finished I took the course to become a volunteer Hospitalero (person who oversees one of the pilgrim hostels, welcomes pilgrims, makes meals, etc.). One of my current dearest friends is a man I met while volunteering in the former monastery in Grañón, Spain. We now try to work together every year. Sadly Covid kept us apart last year but we plan to work together again as soon as world conditions allow. Then by going back to Spain yearly, I have met runners there and now have friends that I look forward to seeing every time I return and with whom I am in regular contact. So, a huge benefit for me is the friendships I have developed that are meaningful and “deep".
How does volunteering help? It helps meet huge needs in organizations
that we serve. It provides needed manpower. It multiplies what
organizations can do with paid staff. We help change the world. I know
that as a result of my volunteering that some refugee people learned
rudimentary English, that some inner-city kids had great experiences
learning to paddle, that some children learned to shoot a bow, that some families had some nice and safe outdoor adventures together, that a school was managed well, that hundreds of pilgrims were welcomed after a day of walking on the Camino, that some people learned how to teach yoga, that others had the experience of taking yoga classes without charge. And, they are just folks that I know I touched. And that is barely a look at a small portion of the surface of an ocean of opportunities. But, mostly I know that my life is richer, I have more friends, I have had great experiences and opportunities, I have met great people in a number of countries and in my own city. I feel good about working, being productive, helping the world, and having a heck of a lot of fun doing it.
I have had great experiences and opportunities, I have met great people in a number of countries and in my own city