I recently met a woman who is doing what I would call “extreme volunteering,” and even wrote a book about it (Barbara M. Traynor, Second Career Volunteer, available at www.thetroybookmakers.com).
Barbara is a single grandmother who, since she retired, has pursued a series of out-of-state volunteer jobs – including one as far away as Alaska – where she gets room and board in exchange for her volunteer work. Her Social Security pays for her other expenses, Medicare covers her medical needs, and she has fun, adventure, fulfillment, and the opportunity to explore other ways of life and to make new friends.
I admire her spunk, but you don’t have to go that far away from home – or away from home at all, really – to obtain most of those same benefits.
The best thing about volunteering is that it gives you something very much worthwhile to do with your time once you've left aside your principal career. Now, maybe you have some other goal or purpose in mind for yourself during that time of life, and if so, then that’s great. But if you don’t, you'll probably find that retirement can be a drag, at times – maybe even most of the time. But getting yourself out where you can do something that interests you, for a cause you believe in – whether just once in a while or as part of your daily life – will, in the phrase used by many volunteers, mean that you get a lot more out of it than you give.
One of the other great things about volunteering (other than the actual service you provide) is the enormous flexibility you have. If you are looking for a paying job, you have to have just the skills and availability that the employer wants. If you want to be a volunteer, all kinds of organizations have all kinds of needs, and regardless of your skills – even if you feel you have no skills at all – there is a worthy cause that can really use you. And probably at times of the day and week that fit comfortably into your own schedule, whatever that may be.
I happen to have recently become the acting president of the SAGE Crossing Foundation, started up here in Harvard five years ago. This organization works with autistic adults, a small but very rapidly growing segment of our population that is destined to become very large indeed over the next couple of decades. At present, there are few good programs for autistic adults, and few good living situations for them. The SAGE idea, which has been tried elsewhere, is to establish farm communities where autistic adults can live and work, and interact in appropriate ways with the rest of the population. (SAGE stands for "Special Adults - Greener Earth.") We are close to having a deal that will enable us to establish such a “farmstead” in Worcester County, which will be the first of its kind in Massachusetts.
An organization like this, which already has quite a few volunteer officers, trustees, and other helpers, can definitely use more – and we are very typical in this regard. If you can help with bookkeeping or other office work, planning and carrying out fundraising events, using experience you have with crafts or carpentry or animal care or horticulture or music during our seasonal (temporary) farm programs, pitching in with publicity or grantwriting, or even organizing the work of other volunteers, or even if you can just be present to help supervise activities, or do simple chores during farm programs or to help clean up an old barn so that we can use it for new purposes – any of that, and more, is work that needs to be done.
And as I say, lots of local organizations besides SAGE need help. Even if you have something very specific to offer, chances are a whole list of organizations would be happy to have your help.
If you want to learn more about SAGE or want to volunteer (or know someone else who wants to volunteer), feel free to contact me at my SAGE address, which is President@SAGECrossingFoundation.org. If you want to learn more about volunteering in general, or about how to find out about other organizations, whether local, or elsewhere in the state or country, or even elsewhere in the world, check out my company’s web page on resources relating to volunteering, at www.retirementworks2.com/RetireReady/RW_RetireReady_Purpose_Volunteering.htm.
Chuck Yanikoski is a retirement adviser who lives and works in Harvard. For more about him, or to contact him directly, visit www.ChuckYRetirement.com.