10 Ways a Senior Can Volunteer

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Seven in 10 U.S. senior volunteers (70 percent) and three in five Canadian senior volunteers (62 percent) say they plan on volunteering “forever” or they have no end in sight to their community service activities, according to research conducted by the Home Instead Senior Care® network.

Ambitious goals, right? Actually, seniors can make a mark well into their elderly years by following a few simple guidelines designed to keep volunteering from becoming a grind or, even worse, more like a job.

  1. Find a passion. Some people live their passion through jobs and careers, but that isn’t always the case. Retirement is the time to save the whales, feed the homeless and brighten up the neighborhood. In other words, do what you’ve always wanted to do and didn’t have time for before.

  2. Look for a need. That won’t be difficult these days. A 2009 survey, conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, found that 80 percent of nonprofit and AmeriCorps organizations surveyed reported some level of fiscal stress. To find out where you could do the most good, contact your local Area Agency on Aging office, church or synagogue. Or contact the Senior Corps (www.seniorcorps.gov). In Canada, go to Volunteer Canada (www.volunteer.ca or call 613-231-4371) or your local volunteer centre.

  3. Laugh it off. If you’ve had a bad day on the volunteer job, laugh it off. For a quick “laugh fix,” visit CaregiverStress.com and “Laugh with Mary Maxwell.” Mary is a senior who has her own perspective on aging that is sure to delight seniors everywhere.

  4. Avoid perfectionism. It’s easy to want that special church event to be perfect or that remodeling project to look like it belongs in the nation’s leading home improvement magazine. Chill out! Perfectionism can ruin the project for you and everyone on your team.

  5. Strive for joy. If nothing else, a volunteer job should be something fun. Volunteer work can be dirty and difficult (the top projects in the Home Instead Senior Care network survey, at 45 percent, are hands-on projects and general labor). It should still be something you enjoy. Whether it’s immersing yourself in cement or cake batter, make sure what you’re doing brings joy.

  6. Deflect criticism. While you might not be taking the volunteer job too seriously, others may. That’s why it’s best to try to brush off criticism. If a fellow volunteer thinks he or she can do the better job, step back. While criticism can be tough to take, it shouldn’t ruin your ability to find a way to give.

  7. Steer clear of conflict. While turf wars and disagreements can complicate life in the business world, try to avoid them in volunteer life. Remember, you’re not fighting for job standing or salary. If you need to turn the other cheek or give up ground on an idea to keep the peace, consider doing so.

  8. Don’t overdo. Older adults can become so committed to a cause it becomes a job. While that kind of dedication is admirable, remember that retirement work should be a labor of love, not drudgery.

  9. Shun negativity. You know the one—the neighbor who finds something wrong with every idea or the church member who shoots down all the fun stuff. Turn a deaf ear to the negativity and gravitate toward people and projects that share your interests.

  10. Get help. If you’re a senior or have a loved one who is yearning to volunteer, but needs help to make it happen, contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office which employs CAREGivers℠—many of whom are seniors themselves—who are screened, trained, bonded and insured. CAREGivers can help around the house with meal preparation and light housekeeping so their clients can volunteer. They can, perhaps, participate with their client in volunteer projects, or help provide transportation to and from special events.