Each year almost 63 million individuals participate in some type of volunteer activity on an ongoing basis or one time as an individual or as a group. No matter how the volunteering is done it creates a powerful and lasting effect on both the individual touched by the activity as well as the volunteer.
The post-retirement period of a person's life is generally a time for taking on hobbies, part-time work, spending more time with family and engaging in volunteer work.
During this phase of life people are free to pursue the activities and issues that are important to them and support those issues by lending a hand. In 2008, about a quarter of the 65+ population engaged in some type of volunteer work that they felt connected to.
The 65+ population is very unique and there is no cookie cutter design that fits all seniors.
With increasing age comes an increase in prevalence of various health issues, family dynamics change as children begin their own lives with their own children, grandparents may raise their grandchildren and there is generally more time for leisure activities.
Some retirees choose to travel to exotic and interesting destinations while others invest their money in a vacation home. There are also many who remain in their community and participate in civic engagement or even do a little bit of everything.
In order to respond to the significant shift to the population due to the aging of the baby boomers, a number of initiatives have been developed over the past few years. These support the increase of volunteering among older adults. In 2004, The Gerontological Society of America was given a grant for research to help develop programs to increase social interaction and volunteering among the aging population. The goal of the research was to identify what is important to older adults in terms of civic engagement and ultimately how best to engage them.
Other initiatives have been set up under the Senior Corps a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Services of Senior Corps include Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program).
These national programs are designed to engage adults age 55+ in a variety of opportunities that not only help them to remain connected with their community, but also provides at risk and often isolated individuals with a companion.
On a local level, Fairfield County offers residents (of all ages) many opportunities to get involved and give back. Many 55+ year olds find opportunities through volunteermatch.org and ucanhelp.org offered through The Volunteer Center of Southwestern CT.
Engaging baby boomers and older adults in volunteer opportunities can be challenging but not impossible. Flexibility, autonomy, responsibility and meaningful tasks have been observed to be some of the most important factors in creating a volunteer opportunity for a baby boomer or older adult. The key is to listen to the potential volunteers to really understand what motivates them, similar as one would with their staff.
Friendly Connections, a program of Family Centers, engages volunteers to provide support and social interaction to senior citizens in the community who are at risk for isolation.
Whether the volunteers are providing weekly telephone reassurance phone calls, friendly visits or engaging multiple seniors on an interactive conference call a volunteer's role is incredibly valuable.
Many of the program's volunteers are over 50 and appreciate the idea of helping others in their or their aging parents' cohort.
After retirement many start to think about their own aging process and they would like someone to volunteer to engage them when they get older. This emotion is a strong motivator in getting younger seniors to become active, especially with a program like Friendly Connections.
Regardless of the motivator, volunteerism for older adults is incredibly rewarding and attractive.
A growing number of people post-retirement are looking to get involved with their community in an opportunity that is important to them. Our community is rich with organizations and causes, eager to engage active volunteers in their mission, while providing valuable services to a vulnerable population and a rewarding volunteer experience likely to make a lasting impression.
Rebecca Lippel is the manager of Family Centers' Friendly Connections senior outreach program. With offices in Greenwich, Stamford, Darien and New Canaan, Family Centers is a United Way, Darien Community Fund and Community Foundation of New Canaan partner agency that offers counseling and support programs for children, adults and families. Family Centers is also affiliated with the Community Fund of Darien. For information, call 203-869-4848 or visit www.familycenters.org.