Fabulous After 50: Why Volunteers Are So Special, and How to Find the Right Volunteer Position for You
Volunteers give back—and get back—in return.
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Joe Miller, 68, and M. “Chris” Stranahan, 70, had been volunteering their entire lives, so to them it only seemed natural that after retirement they not only would continue to volunteer, but also would step up their commitments.
“It’s time to give back. When you’ve been fortunate in life and have a background that’s valuable to an organization, you’re wasting your time if you are not helping people,” says Stranahan, a retired teacher from Newark.
“Chris and I have the same philosophy,” adds Miller. “We’re not going to rust out; we’re going to wear out.”
Co-captains of a Disaster Action Team with the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Region, they are on call one week out of three, ready at a moment’s notice at any time of the night or early morning and all weekend long to respond to a house fire where the occupants need Red Cross assistance.
Last year Miller, of Hockessin, devoted 1,045 hours to various Red Cross programs, including working at disaster sites such as hurricanes and floods. In 2011, Stranahan was named New Castle County’s Volunteer of the Year by the Retired & Senior Volunteers Program (RSVP).
“Senior volunteers have a great deal of talent and experience, and they have time to devote to volunteering. All those aspects combined are so valuable to the organizations they serve,” says Debby Vandiver, RSVP program manager for New Castle and Sussex counties.
Some 93,000 Delawareans of all ages volunteered their time in 2010, according to the January 2013 report “Philanthropy in the First State.” The financial value of their commitment was a whopping $41.6 million.
Nationally, people over age 55 make a significant contribution of time to nonprofits, with 18.7 million older adults—more than 25 percent of the over-55 population—volunteering an average of three billion hours annually between 2008 and 2010, according to the report “Volunteering in America 2010.”
“We are seeing a rise among retirees who are willing to give back in a variety of ways,” says Chris Grundner, president and CEO of the Delaware Association for Nonprofit Advancement. “And because of their work and life experience, they are making critical contributions to organizations beyond what volunteers might typically be doing.”
Yes, volunteers still sometimes stuff envelopes, but they also provide critical services to the clients of nonprofit organizations, serve on boards, help fundraise and offer business knowledge, legal expertise and other critical skills, Grundner adds.
“Every volunteer is a gift for sharing their energy, enthusiasm and support with the people we serve,” says Holly Titus, director of volunteer and student engagement at Easter Seals.
At a time when nonprofits are struggling with money woes and sometimes trying to get by with fewer employees, volunteers might be more important than ever. “With a staff of just six, we rely heavily on our volunteers. We could not do what we do without them,” notes Daniel Green, senior director of the American Heart Association in Delaware.
Volunteering isn’t just good for the nonprofits; it’s also good for the volunteers, according to numerous studies. One study reported that volunteers over age 70 live longer, while another noted that volunteers over age 60 reported lower disability rates and higher levels of well-being relative to non-volunteers.
“Volunteering just feels good. It’s rewarding, and people appreciate you,” says Miller.
Adds his Red Cross partner Stranahan, “I know it sounds hokey, but I like people. I like helping people.”