"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Volunteering an Opinion

     I just finished tutoring for the first summer session at our community college. I've been volunteering there for the past three years, helping students with their essays and presentations, their applications to four-year schools, their resumes and covering letters for job openings.

     I can't volunteer for the second summer session, because I am too busy moving. And I'm not volunteering next year, either, since I'll be doing a lot of traveling and won't be around that much.

     I'll miss going to the college, helping the kids, and hanging out with the other volunteers. It got me thinking about volunteering, and how much it means to us retirees.

     There are about a dozen volunteers in the writing center, a division of the Academic Support Center. There are over a hundred when you count those volunteering in the math center, in science and technology, and for ESL as conversation partners. So I have a lot of company, but not just here in New York, all across America as well. It turns out that America is one of the most generous nations in the world. According to figures from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, some 60 percent of Americans regularly engage in some kind of charitable activity, compared to an average of about 40 percent for other developed countries.

     Another study, from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, found that Americans offer almost 8 billion hours a year volunteering for charitable causes, from church activities to political organizations to helping out neighbors and strangers. While Americans of all races and ages contribute both their money and time, retirees are the ones who reach out the most.

I tutor writing at -- where else? -- the school library
     Retirees have the most opportunity to volunteer, since our time isn't consumed by working or taking care of children. We have almost twice as much free time as working parents in their late 30s and early 40s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we are looking for something to do with all that extra time. So while retirees comprise less than a third of the population, we account for 45 percent of all volunteering hours, Merrill Lynch found.

     We also have the most money. Retirees have the lowest poverty rate among all age groups, and also have the most savings. As a group, we are sitting on more than four times the net worth of our children who are working and raising families. This explains why retirees account for 42 percent of the money donated to charity, according to Merrill Lynch.

     As my own experience has shown, retirees find it fulfilling to volunteer; it gives us the feeling that we make a difference in the lives of others. Most volunteers report that helping others brings them more happiness than spending money on themselves. Retirees who are active in charities also exhibit a stronger sense of purpose and higher self-confidence, with lower reported rates of depression as well as lower blood pressure and lower mortality rates.

     Volunteering is also a way to make social connections, offering retirees an opportunity to meet people with similar interests and values. Some 85 percent of retiree volunteers say they have developed new friendships through their volunteer activities. Personally, I've found a group of like-minded friends at the college. We sit around and talk shop, but we also talk about our families, our lives, our interests. We occasionally get together for coffee before or after a session, and I've found one fellow volunteer who likes to dance, and so B and I meet up with her and her husband once or twice a month to go dancing.

     Speaking of B, she devotes most of her volunteer time to her church, and according to Merrill Lynch, that makes her more typical than me. About half of people who donate to charity contribute to a religious or spiritual organization, while 30 percent donate to relieve poverty, 25 percent to provide disaster aid and roughly 20 percent to educational institutions.

     But it's true that charity begins at home. While some people say that leaving an inheritance to their children is an important goal, today's retirees are twice as likely to say it's more important to help out family members in times of need instead of accumulating an estate for their children. Over 60 percent of parents have given some kind of financial support to their adult children. Others have extended a helping hand to parents, siblings, in-laws and grandchildren.

     It may come as no surprise that women are more generous than men. They are more likely to give money and more likely to volunteer. They are also more likely to say they achieve happiness by giving to others rather than spending money on themselves, and define success in terms of helping others rather than accumulating wealth. Women give out of gratitude, not guilt. And because of their greater longevity, women also exercise control over the family inheritance. Today, about a third of charitable bequests are made by married couples. But almost half are made by women alone.

     So anyway, I got an email from the college the other day. The writing coordinator said she understood I wasn't available next year, because I'd be traveling. But maybe I'd be around toward the end of the semester when things got busy. Would I be available to volunteer in November and December? So now I'm thinking, I'll probably be home, maybe I could just help out during the crunch period.


DJan said...

I didn't know these facts about volunteering. I cast about for a long time before finally deciding to get certified as a facilitator to help others prepare their Advance Directive for end-of-life care, and it's extremely satisfying work. Thanks for the great post, Tom. You made me think about perhaps other aspects of volunteering I'd enjoy. :-)

stephen Hayes said...

My wife manages the volunteer program for our local police department. She manages over a hundred volunteers and I think this helps people of all ages understand the job of law enforcement personnel better and feel more connected to the community.

Anonymous said...

I don't volunteer much these days, although there was a time I met myself coming and going with charity work. Very nice post Tom.
I'll bet you miss it all.

BTW, 'Next Avenue' a newsletter from PBS published three articles this week on moving, deciding what to do with your stuff, and clutter and hoarding. Thought you might enjoy this issue. Your next volunteer job could be assisting seniors or their children with these issues.

Barbara said...

Good post. I was always hesitant to volunteer because it requires a commitment of time. I was so confused about what I wanted to do with my retirement I didn't want to jump into anything. I think by taking care of the Grand Girl this summer I have had a test run with commitment and might be ready to try again next year. I'm glad that your choice was in the educational system. I didn't realize that colleges used volunteers like yourself. I need to find my niche.

Tom said...

Barbara -- It took me a while to find my niche, but when I finally did I was deeply rewarded. Now I'll have to find a new niche in my new place. I don't know if I'm grounded enuf to do end-of-life; and honestly, after this, I don't think I'll ever want to look at another moving box. But the police? I didn't even know you could volunteer for the police. It sounds intriguing. Maybe I'll look into it.

Carole said...

I've yet to find my niche for volunteering. I've considered several options, but none have really seemed like a good fit. I'm now considering OASIS, which is a local organization that offers courses (covering everything you could imagine!) for those over 55. They can always use volunteers, and it would be a good way for me to meet people.

Great post; loved all the stats you provided.

Anonymous said...

One comment you made that was seniors have the most money and the time and efforts to volunteer..I have volunteered most of my life against domestic violence and hunger, it was ingrained into me by my sainted Mother who died young..proud to be an American in the greatest country in the world..I find lots of seniors barely getting any food here they come in droves to the food pantry where I cook, bake, clean and help them get the food they so need..Most people who put in 40 years of slaving at low paying jobs have no time to volunteer yet they are the most generous to the needy here, the rich cannot be bothered, they write out a check if they are absolutely held to their word, not the way with poor women who outlive any mates/husbands, they cannot travel and enjoy the retirement you comment about daily but are cheerful and kind..Please don't assume all seniors can volunteer most are just eeking out existences it is rampant in our society, thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It has been hotter than a pepper plant in the pacific northwest for 5 full years, it makes it hard for poor seniors to get to the food pantry where I volunteer, hunger is a huge problem, many are not attended to by their families whatsoever..Your blog reminds me of the uber 1 percent who can afford homes, cars, etc..denied to many where I live..It is suppose to be another hot years, but the hungry seniors can get to the pantry and get food and someone will drive them home with enough to last to get to the pantry again..I read your blog you seem to have a wonderful life, rich by many standards, please don't assume anything about seniors many who are generous in this community are poor as church mouses, the rich ignore them, I have seen it face to face..Shame on them, in this the greatest country in the entire world, seniors should be able to get some food and not have to beg, thankfully the food pantry where I have volunteered and my hubs too fills a huge need no questions asked, cheerful servers and prepares and lots of love from everyone to go around!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pam said...

Tom, thanks for sharing these facts. Lately, we've been bombarded with so much bad news in our world, it's uplifting to know that there are many generous people who give of themselves and their resources. Thank you, also, for volunteering at the college. When I taught school, I always wished for more one-on-one time with students. As a volunteer, you were able to provide that to your students, and I'm sure their lives were enriched as a result. Good luck finding your niche in your new location.

Janette said...

Hum. You have sparked a volunteer idea for my husband with the college thing.
Hope you enjoy finding your new niche!

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! Thank you for sharing the many benefits to seniors (and all people really) when they take the time to be of help and service to others. There is SO much evidence that when we help others we actually benefit as much if not more than those we serve. Just the simple act of taking the focus off of ourselves and putting it on another in a helping way can cure so many ills. I've been serving as a mentor at a local high school for the last eight years and I can't imagine not doing something. And I'll bet you find something again once you've settled down from your move. ~Kathy

Tabor said...

I do volunteer for a number of good causes, but nothing has warmed the cockles of my heart...maybe someday.

Madeline Kasian said...

I spent my career in healthcare and in retirement,wanted to give free rein to my creative side, and the amateur naturalist in my soul.I have been enjoying being a docent at our Desert Botanical Garden for a year now, and it is Heaven on Earth to me!! I get to share my love of the desert, and to teach about conservation and ecology as well as enjoy time in the garden myself.It can take a few tries to find your niche in volunteeringI love to read, but shelving books at the library was quite boring for me!! So I stopped that after a short time. Having time to enjoy one's avocations and to give back in some way is very satisfying! AND I meet incredible people who share my interests!!!

Dick Klade said...

My wife and I performed every job at one time or another in our homeowners association for 20 years. For me, 15 of the years came after I retired. Some duties were not pleasant--collecting debts or dealing with uncooperative residents--but all were necessary. Sometimes one can find a volunteer niche very close to home and gain the satisfaction of doing much good for one's neighbors.

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joared said...

There's certainly a great need in so many areas volunteering. Years ago before ESL teachers i provided some vital English classes but dont know how I worked it into my hectic life. Subsequent years until two years ago I've been providing therapy in adult health care. I've been ready to take a break from so much involvement.