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Volunteering: Lending a Hand to Do Good

By Carolyn Spence Cagle

Hello, there. It is good to continue communicating health-related information to improve your retiree life.

As we head into the holiday season, I want to focus in this first online posting of the Health Help Now column on a topic that is “right in front of me:” volunteering (working without pay) as a way to improve your health in the coming year. It seemed “just right” to overview my personal experience as a volunteer in my local community and also provide benefits of volunteering to you and others when we “lend a hand to do good.”

I’ve recently read there are four ways to promote our health: finding ways to decrease stress, eat healthy, exercise, and connect with a sense of purpose to others (Top of the Mind, 2017). Research shows that engaging in an activity you feel strongly about, strengthened by your life skills, positively impacts that activity and adds quality and increases years to your life. Engagement in that activity gives you a sense of purpose and greater sense of control over your life for better health. Volunteering for a cause you believe in also increases your social connections to minimize the social isolation hazard often found in aging individuals (Levinson, 2010; Schneidewind, 2017). Schneidewind says volunteering is “the closest thing to the magic bullet we have discovered for personal and societal well-being” (p. 31).

Volunteering at this life stage continues your commitment to the TCU Mission as a global citizen and ethical leader by focusing on a community of your choice to “do good.” Many organizations need and value your TCU knowledge and skills to meet their goals efficiently. Even in a busy retirement, there is someplace where you can help another; the key is identifying which place works best for you with your values, experience, and personality.

Levinson identified three guideposts for volunteering that, in reality, mesh with rules you followed in your career. These include:

• What you do is not as important as how you do it (the “what” reflects your physical work; the “how” reflects the heart and passion for your involvement)

  • Do whatever you choose for fun and because it meets your needs and those of others
  • Identify your reason for volunteering where you choose (Do you want to be part of the solution to an issue rather than just complain about it? Does the activity meet your need now? Do you feel a sense of duty to volunteer because of past or recent experiences?)

So, how do you get involved as a volunteer? Levinson suggests the following process:

Find a need: I recall the Fort Worth Star-Telegram publishing in the past a list of volunteer opportunities, and perhaps it still does. Ask friends, church members, or neighbors if they volunteer for a particular project in the community that might meet your needs and talents. What do those people see as benefits and negatives of their volunteering? Many non-profit groups seek skilled older persons to meet organizational goals (The United Way, Tarrant County Food Bank, homeless or humane animal shelters are just a few). These organizations value the input of older persons who have diverse and valuable life experience to meet organizational goals.

Commit to your chosen activity: Show up as scheduled and contribute to the organization or project. The structure of working one day/week, for example, will offer life purpose and mutual learning for you and others. Decide how much time and the extent of involvement based on your life goals and personality to be involved comfortably. Even though you will work “free” as a volunteer, a strong work ethic may support a later part-time or full-time job centered on issues important to you. You can still make a difference and reap health benefits by volunteering sporadically for multiple activities with retirement plans (e.g., traveling) that prevent frequent and structured involvement.

“Give and get back:” Volunteers speak of the “giver’s high,” that “warm fuzzy feeling” when someone notes appreciation for your work. I get this feeling every Wednesday afternoon in my supervisor role at our local library that receives no tax dollars, but depends totally on a volunteer staff and grants to provide learning opportunities for local citizens. Serving in this role also gives me a chance to teach patrons about health and learn about their health care needs and experiences to share in another one of my volunteer engagements, membership on a county health care coalition. My TCU career as a nurse-scholar provides me the knowledge and skills to contribute in these areas as a volunteer and gain a sense of purpose during retirement to meet the literacy needs of others.

“Re-invent yourself:” To emphasize the current motto of AARP, this is the time you may want to volunteer for projects or with organizations that you did not have time or energy for during your earlier career. This may be the time to use some of your wealth to support a cause you believe in deeply. Or, you may wish to engage in volunteer work that helps you see the world differently than before to gain greater life satisfaction.

Best wishes in the volunteer opportunities that await you as you use your knowledge and skills to meet organizational goals and help you grow and prosper toward a fuller and healthier life.

References:

  • Levinson, D. T. (2010). Everyone helps, everyone wins. New York: Plume.
  • Schneidewind, E. J. Planning to live to 10? Volunteer! AARP Bulletin, 58(5), 31.
  • The new picture of health. Top of the mind (2017, June). Mindful, 5(2), 10.