Volunteering in Retirement
2020. What a year! Sometimes it seems hard to find anything good to say about it. For me, one really good thing was discovering Activate Good. When I retired five years ago, I knew that I wanted to volunteer; I just didn’t really know where to start. I looked around and tried lots of different things, but I didn’t know of a resource like Activate Good, whose mission is to bring together volunteers and the projects they might be interested in. While I’m glad for all the volunteer experiences I’ve had, I know that my volunteering journey would have been much better if Activate Good had been a part of it from the beginning.
Reasons to Volunteer
There are lots of reasons for volunteering in general. Not only are we helping others, we are also helping ourselves. Most of us have heard the phrase, “It is better to give than to receive.” As children, we probably thought that idea was crazy. But I now know that it’s true. I am the one who benefits most from giving. You could say that giving becomes receiving. When I volunteer, I receive all sorts of blessings. And the good feeling that I get makes me want to do it again. But there are special reasons to volunteer during retirement.
Reasons to Volunteer in Retirement
Volunteering allows retirees to pursue interests that we may have had to put aside during our careers when we were focused on making a living. In retirement, we can pick activities that suit our interests, that fit in with our schedules. Volunteering can provide structure to your day, week, month, or year, especially if you volunteer regularly. Sometimes after leaving a structured work environment, retirees may struggle with being at home and figuring out what to do with their time. Volunteering also provides community, another important aspect of the workplace that we sometimes miss. And a big benefit is that learning new things and trying new activities can keep your mind sharp during retirement.
Here are some things I’ve learned while volunteering in retirement, some advice I would give myself if I were starting from scratch:
Use Activate Good.
This organization has really helped me get through 2020. Its website is easy to navigate, and there’s always someone to help if you have a question. There are so many different projects! Pick one that suits your interests, schedule, and safety concerns. When most of my activities ground to a halt because of the pandemic, I found opportunities through Activate Good that allowed me to contribute and still feel safe. My husband and I made personal hygiene kits at home and delivered them. I participated in a virtual voter registration activity and virtual town halls. I also volunteered in person at times and felt like Activate Good did everything possible to make the environment COVID safe.
Be willing to try something new—don’t be afraid.
If it’s not a good fit, you can move on and do something else. You’ll always learn something and will have the satisfaction of making a difference no matter how long you stay. Also, the experience will help narrow your choices. One of my first volunteering in retirement adventures was as an audio describer for Arts Access in Raleigh. I’d heard about this work through my daughter’s dance company whose performances were transcribed for the sight-impaired. I thought this was interesting and involved things I loved: writing, sharing stories, and attending cultural events like plays and dances. So after I retired, I almost immediately looked into becoming a describer. Although it was something different for me and challenging, I completed training, worked with Arts Access, and felt good about it.
Don’t feel guilty about not doing enough.
Don’t try to do too much—when you start looking around, you’ll see all sorts of needs, but try to stay focused on what you want to do and can do well. Remember that we all have different interests and skills. Tell your friends about volunteer opportunities you find. They may be interested in a project you can’t do.
Do what you can, when you can, even if it’s a small thing.
When I was working, I didn’t have time for lots of volunteering, but I always made a point to give blood at the Red Cross. I knew that lots of people could not give blood. Some people have health issues; others just get sick from the experience. But I never had any problems and always felt good afterwards. So, I figured I’d do this one little thing.
Feel free to say no.
Sometimes when you’re volunteering, you’re asked to do more. Keep your volunteering manageable so that you don’t burn out.
Leave when you feel that you need to, without guilt.
Sometimes even when you love what you’re doing, you may need to move on. In retirement, we sometimes have lots of responsibilities—elderly parents, grandkids—and feel pulled in different directions. Or maybe we just want to try something else. Trust your gut feeling and don’t feel guilty. You can try something else that works better for you at that time.
Realize that “following your bliss” may lead to volunteer opportunities.
I’ve always believed this adage, so when I retired, I decided to be involved with music. I’d played piano as a girl and always loved to sing. At first, I simply participated by singing in choirs. Later, I served as volunteer pianist and leader of a choir. I also formed a small women’s singing group to perform at community centers and other places. My involvement in the choir led me to a volunteer opportunity at a nursing home where I went each week to play piano. Finally, my musical interest led me to co-found the Raleigh chapter of Handsome Ladies, a bluegrass jam group especially for women.
I’ve been rewarded beyond measure by volunteering in retirement. Most of all, my advice is to enjoy the experience and take pride in your efforts. Happy volunteering in 2021!