Prevent Heart Trouble: Volunteer!
If you don’t have any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble. — Bob Hope
By Leah Lancione
Bob Hope’s sentiment was quite accurate. Volunteering is beneficial not only to the people and community who receive the service or charity, but to the volunteer’s self-worth as well. Volunteering is a way to connect yourself to the community you live in—your friends, neighbors or the strangers who, like you, have needs that someone else may be able to fill. These needs are not always just physical, like providing hot meals or a place to stay when the weather is dangerously hot or cold, but often emotional—friendship, mentorship, coaching or even foster parenting or just grandparenting. Fortunately, there are organizations, like Senior Corps, that make the process of uniting senior volunteers with people in need simple.
Now that you’re retired and have more time to give back, you’ll see that the opportunities for volunteering are endless. Just consider all the skills you cultivated during your career and how you can apply them to a service effort. For example, if you were an accountant, your financial and money-management dexterity may be useful to a nonprofit’s fundraising campaign. If you were a nurse, you may be just the person to help make a Red Cross blood drive run smoothly. Former teachers make great tutors and mentors and stay-at-home-moms, who can usually do a little bit of everything, should consider spreading their love to a foster grandchild or a nursing home resident in need of companionship. Anyone can lend a hand in preparing meals for homeless or less-fortunate individuals. Just reflect on the diverse talents you can share and then let Senior Corps, or some other volunteer agency, match you with the appropriate opportunity. It’s that simple.
Senior Corps, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, recognizes that American seniors (persons over 55) have the expertise and experience to make a difference in the world. The organization has already matched 500,000 Americans with service opportunities since its inception during John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Through this organization, seniors get the proper training and guidance so they can effectively contribute their unique skills and interests to such programs as the Foster Grandparent Program, the Senior Companion Program, or RSVP, which places seniors with service initiatives in their communities.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics furnishes Senior Crops with statistics based on studies of baby boomers (Americans born between 1946 and 1964) and their volunteering. The most recent data, from 2005, reveals that one-third of boomers volunteer, which is still the highest volunteer rate of any age group. The Senior Corps can be reached at www.seniorcorps.org
Although “giving back” is at the heart of volunteering, there are many positive “side-effects” a volunteer can receive from offering compassion and care to others. After retirement it’s easy to fall into a self-centered mentality after all the years of hard work supporting everyone else. However, for a retiree who has been living alone, the world can be a very lonely place. Once the isolation from others causes loneliness to creep in, feelings of melancholy and boredom become overpowering. People who were once responsible for running corporations, managing large staffs and solving important problems, but are now secluded from friends and former colleagues, often start feeling like they no longer matter. Volunteering can change that.
Need inspiration? Former President Jimmy Carter’s mother, Lillian, served in the Peace Corps in India when she was 68 years old, and Mother Teresa tended to the impoverished, diseased, neglected, starving and battered until she was 87. Her acts not only spread compassion, love and kindness to those she served, but inspired others to value the role of being your “brother’s keeper.” And though the English Minister William Booth resisted the word ‘volunteer’, saying he was “compelled to God’s work,” he left his pulpit in 1865 to serve the homeless, hungry and penniless in the streets, stablishing the Salvation Army.
The Volunteer Center of Anne Arundel County is another great resource for “finding a volunteer opportunity that utilizes your knowledge, skills and positive energy.” The website www.volunteerannearundel.org lists 60 to 70 possible volunteer opportunities as well as a directory of partner agencies that also seek volunteer support. A volunteer profile Form will enable you to communicate your interests, availability and desired location for volunteering.
And don’t forget, organizations like the American Red Cross www.redcross.org the American Cancer Society www.cancer.org the American Heart Association www.americanheart.org Homes for Troops www.homesforourtroops.org Girl Scouts of Central Maryland www.gscm.org and more, always need help to continue their legacy of good will.