Updated May, 2021 – After retirement, creating a schedule for your day to day life can easily be done. What is more difficult is creating a schedule that is fulfilling and enriches your life. Finding ways to volunteer and and help out through community service can be both beneficial and rewarding.
Why should seniors volunteer? Volunteering helps improve mental health, offers social engagement, and the chance to learn new skills. It promotes physical and mental stimulation, and gives a sense of purpose and meaning. These are all important contributions to senior’s health and quality of life.
Another positive effect is that volunteering makes us feel like time slows down. A recent study done at Wharton College showed that we feel less rushed when we give our time to others. This is a huge benefit to seniors who are looking to gain a sense of accomplishment and still enjoy their free time.
Why Do Older Adults Volunteer?
Senior citizens are drawn to volunteering for a few different reasons.
- After retirement, everyone needs to find their footing. You’ve earned that rest, so take it! But you’ll also want to find additional activities to keep your mind and body active and engaged.
- Volunteering is a great way to get involved in a community and help others while opening a new chapter in your book. Maybe you always loved kids and wanted to be a teacher, but instead you ended up in a 9-5 office job. Volunteering to work with local kids in educational programs will allow you to accomplish something you didn’t get to do during the work week grind of your professional life.
- Volunteering can often make you feel like you’re making a fresh start in life. It will also allow you to pursue passions that invigorate you while you make meaningful changes in someone else’s life. Older people get a lot out of all aspects of volunteering.
- When seniors can’t participate in daily activities to stimulate their minds and bodies, it can lead to depression and an overall decline in physical and mental health. On the other hand, volunteering for a worthy cause helps to reduce stress. It offers mental stimulation and social interaction and allows you the satisfaction of knowing that you made a contribution to the world.
- Having a sense of purpose that you may have felt like you lost after retirement is an amazing benefit of doing volunteer work. It feels good to make a difference, especially for someone who may not be up for all the same things they used to do. My 94-year-old aunt still volunteers one day a week at the hospital gift shop where she has been working for more than three decades. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning,” she jokes, but it also helps her body to stay active and provides social connections that keep her from being lonely..
- Being of service to others also has physical health benefits. A Carnegie Mellon study found that, in adults over age 50, “Those who had volunteered at least 200 hr in the 12 months prior to baseline were less likely to develop hypertension.”
- And, did you know that volunteering may help you live longer? Well, it might – provided your reason for volunteering is altruistic.
“…respondents who volunteered were at lower risk for mortality 4 years later, especially those who volunteered more regularly and frequently. However, volunteering behavior was not always beneficially related to mortality risk: Those who volunteered for self-oriented reasons had a mortality risk similar to nonvolunteers.”American Psychological Association
Volunteering can also help bridge the generation gap between seniors and young people. This is beneficial to everyone involved. The Foster Grandparent program offers older volunteers the chance to provide tutoring to children, mentoring, and a positive role model.
Plus, volunteering with young children has a way of bringing out the child in the senior again. Working with and volunteering with teens and young adults allows seniors to talk with younger people who will bring a different perspective and new energy to their lives.
What Are The Different Types Of Volunteering?
There are five basic types of volunteering, which then have smaller categories beneath them and ways to get involved:
- Non-formal: Typically found in local communities in unfunded settings that don’t have the backing or a formal structure to the organization.
- Formal: These are more supervised atmospheres that involve more scheduling, structure, and a hierarchy overseeing everything.
- Social Action: People getting together for a common goal or a group of advocates helping a specific thing or group of people.
- Project-Based: Specific projects that need volunteers for a certain amount of time that is disclosed in the beginning.
- Governance: This will be more based on coordination and logistics to help an organization meet its goals.
Where Can Elderly Volunteer?
There are many programs that happily take a helping hand from seniors looking to get involved. Here are some great resources to get you started, but look around your local community as well.
Aside from “traditional” places like the local animal shelter or a soup kitchen, there are a lot of great smaller organizations that need local support where senior volunteers can make a big difference.
In addition, there are many opportunities to volunteer through a federal agency, including working in national parks across the United States, helping veterans, providing disaster relief, and aiding in conservation efforts.
Senior Volunteer Opportunities Abroad
If you want to look outside of your local town or community to make a change, Global Volunteers is an excellent resource. Anyone of any age can get involved in volunteer activities around the globe.
They have ongoing projects everywhere from the US to Cuba to Italy to Poland. If you always wanted to do more traveling but also have the craving to do some good while you’re at it, Global Volunteers has some amazing opportunities.
This is also a unique experience because the opportunities are endless for location but also for the type of people you will be volunteering alongside. People from all walks of life, different ages, and a range of backgrounds volunteer through this program.
Volunteering For Retired Professionals
When seniors look for volunteer work, they may be wanting something to simply help pass the time, to feel good about, and to meet people. But retired professionals who want to continue “working” in their chosen field can find ways to do so through volunteer work.
A great example of that would be with Musicians On Call. This organization gets musicians to play at the bedside of patients in hospitals.
While you do what you love, you also get to make a positive impact on someone who is undergoing treatments or surgeries and could use a dose of music and good spirits.
There are a lot of different programs like this that are specific to a profession or niche. If you search for volunteer programs that are in your previous line of work, you may be surprised at the options that you will discover.
Peace Corps For Seniors
The Peace Corps offers a 50+ program that allows you to participate in their programs. If you had always wanted to volunteer but couldn’t because of time constraints between work and family, this is a great way to get involved.
On their website, they offer some great tips as far as getting started. Not just how to sign up, but also things to consider like the logistics of what it’s like to serve with them and what it can mean for your health, finances, and benefits.
One thing to know about the Peace Corps – an acquaintance of mine spent time a year volunteering with the Peace Corp. When he signed up, he did not list a specific region or country in the world, so he ended up being assigned to a tiny, remote island in the middle of the Pacific!
If there is a country you would like to volunteer in, be sure to specify it in your application.
What Is The Retired Senior Volunteer Program?
The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is one of the largest volunteer networks in the US for people who are 55 and over. Some of the opportunities they offer are:
- Renovating homes
- Teaching English to foreign-speaking immigrants
- Assisting those displaced or affected by natural disasters
- Mentoring and tutoring disabled and disadvantaged youth
- Organizing neighborhood watch programs
You can volunteer anywhere from a couple of hours per week right on up to 40 hours. They offer an amazing array of programs so seniors can find something they will be passionate about.
Service Projects For The Elderly To Do
Service projects are a great way for the elderly to get involved. These are the smaller, grassroots efforts that communities try to organize to help specific people and places nearby.
Here are some examples:
- Bake sale for a local underprivileged childcare center
- An adoption event for an animal shelter
- Knitting baby blankets for a nearby children’s hospital
- Make and collect toys for local homeless shelters
- Organize a food or clothing drive
Looking through local newspapers, finding groups online who specialize in these events, and reaching out to local chapters of shelters or centers in their neighborhood is a great way to get started.
One area where I, personally, help out is in transporting cancer patients to their treatments and doctors via the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program. With Road to Recovery, I can drive as little or as much as I like. I choose the day and time I’m available and am not locked into always having to be somewhere at a certain time or on a certain day.
As a breast cancer survivor, doing this for other patients helps me feel like I am making a difference – one person at a time. As the American Cancer Society says, “Even the best treatment can’t work if a patient can’t get there. That’s why a successful transportation assistance program can be a tremendous, potentially life-saving asset to your community.“
To volunteer with Road to Recovery, you must have:
- A safe, reliable car
- A good driving record
- A current, valid driver’s license
- Proof of adequate automobile insurance
- Regular access to a computer, laptop, tablet computer
- Schedule availability, typically Monday-Saturday
After acceptance into the program, you go through an online training course. Once this is completed, you can choose to pick up any ride from the always-updated list of needed transportation.
You don’t even have to drive both legs of the patient’s trip. Patients are just happy to get a ride in one direction (the cancer society provides rides through Lyft and Uber to help the person for the second part of the trip).
Conclusion – Benefits Of Volunteering After Retirement
With so many ways to get involved, whether it be local or across the globe, and so many benefits that seniors get from these activities—they are difficult to pass up. Volunteer work will help boost mental and physical health and fill the senior years with life satisfaction.