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Community

October 08, 2015

Volunteering in retirement

“We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” Those words ring especially true for retirees who volunteer.

Volunteering gives our lives meaning, assures us that we are needed and that we can make a difference. And age is no barrier. Many people who make volunteering a way of life continue well into their elder years.

The reasons for volunteering are varied. Some volunteer because they have been raised in a culture of giving, some because they are naturally altruistic, some because a life event such as an illness or the death of a loved one has spurred them to help people similarly afflicted. Whatever the reasons, many retirees find that volunteering not only gives them the satisfaction of making a contribution, but also makes them happier, more engaged with the world at large and healthier. If you ask the retirees, they’ll tell you volunteering keeps them young and they plan to continue as long as they can.

If you are new to the world of volunteering, a little self assessment is in order. Ask yourself: What skills and experience can I offer? What do I enjoy doing most? Which causes or organizations do I want to support? Do I have a long neglected passion for music or writing or a career in the arts that work and family obligations forced me to set aside? Be honest.

Then ask yourself what you want to do. Do you want to keep using your professional skills? Or try something new? Certainly professional skills like accounting, law and marketing are in high demand. But if you believe you’ll be happier doing something new, something hands-on versus managerial, go for it. You’ve nothing to lose and much to gain, such as the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, meet people from all walks of life and strengthen your people skills.

Whatever you choose, you will find that by volunteering your services you will benefit personally. Often, it’s the humblest activities that bring the greatest satisfaction, such as:

Helping hospital patients: Contact your local hospital’s volunteer office to find out what needs they may have. You may be able to help take patients to and from tests or visit patients with no family or friends.

Tutoring children: If you have the educational credentials, consider calling your local church or community centre to see if they offer, or would like to start, a program to help kids struggling with school work. You will need police clearance to work with children.

Coaching new Canadians: If you have a business background, you may be able to help new immigrants learn basic career and job search skills.

Volunteering at your place of worship: There’s always a need for someone to perform those essential back-room chores, such as typing notes and stuffing envelopes.

Fundraising for your favourite charity: Making phone calls, distributing flyers, canvassing door-to-door – the possibilities are endless.

Some people find volunteer work helps them deal with tragedies in their lives. The late June Callwood, a lifelong social activist, founded Casey House, a Toronto hospice for AIDS patients she named after her 20-year-old son who was killed by a drunk driver. Bereaved spouses sometimes share their experience and give comfort to palliative care patients and their families. Countless people volunteer with organizations such as the Cancer Society and other organizations that raise funds for research into diseases that have afflicted their loved ones.

There is always something you can do that needs doing. As the saying goes, “It is in giving that we receive.” Volunteering a special service or needed skill can be enlivening and help give your life purpose.

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