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The best volunteer opportunities for retirees

The desire to make a positive impact on the world is an ambition that nearly all human beings share. Throughout history, that desire to give back and leave a lasting legacy has driven many of our most important achievements, from master works of literature, music, and art to groundbreaking advancements in medicine, engineering, and technology. While we can’t all become household names like Bill Gates, Yo Yo Ma, or Oprah, we all have the power to volunteer our skills, talents, and time to causes that matter to us. Our contributions might not change the world as we know it. However, they can dramatically improve the lives of the individuals on the other side of our efforts.

Volunteer more in retirement

During your time in the workforce, when free time was harder to come by, giving back was probably a lower priority. Perhaps making donations or spending the occasional Saturday afternoon at a charity event was the extent of your philanthropy. You can make giving back a part of your regular routine now that you’re retired.

Whether you’re looking for a full-time gig at a nonprofit or only have a few hours to spare each week, there are countless ways to make a difference. Here are just a few of our favorite volunteer opportunities for retirees!

Feed the hungry.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our fellow man is a wholesome, nutritious meal. Regardless of the specific hardships a person may be facing, it’s always harder to fight life’s battles on an empty stomach. If you want to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or food bank, you can probably find multiple options in your area. Churches, community centers, and the local chapter of the Salvation Army are common venues.

If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, consider becoming a driver for Meals on Wheels, which would afford you the opportunity to forge real friendships as you provide essential sustenance to the homebound seniors you serve. Another grassroots organization worth looking into is Hashtag Lunchbag. This nationwide movement provides resources that allow volunteers across the country to host their own lunch-making events.  

Provide shelter.

Shelter is at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Yet homelessness continues to be a problem that impacts nearly every major city in the United States. In fact, in 2017, our nation’s homeless population increased for the first time since 2010.

When it comes to doing your part to end this epidemic, there are multiple angles from which to approach the problem. Volunteering with an organization like Habitat for Humanity, for example, would allow you to have a hand in building the actual structures that can provide affordable housing to those in need. If you have physical limitations that would prevent you from being involved in the construction process, donating your time or funds to an established homeless or women’s shelter in your community are also great ways to support this cause.

Offer your companionship.

If you’re looking to forge more intimate bonds with the people you help, becoming a foster grandparent or senior companion can be an incredibly rewarding experience. As a foster grandparent, you will have the opportunity to help children and teenagers in your community. Many of the young people you will serve in this role have special needs or come from tumultuous backgrounds. As such, you will have the opportunity to bring a sense of stability to their lives. In the process, you’ll empower them with the tools and guidance they need to make their way toward a brighter future.

As a senior companion, you can enable older individuals to safely maintain independent lifestyles. By helping them with tasks that they are no longer able to perform on their own. This could include basic tasks like cleaning, grocery shopping, or landscaping. In helping with these basic chores, you’ll enable your senior companion to stay in their own home for longer.

To learn more about each of these opportunities, as well as more volunteering programs designed specifically with seniors in mind, visit the Senior Corps website.

Make your local hospital a happier place.

The hospital can be a pretty scary place, especially for those who are there as patients. Even a relatively short stay in the hospital can be an incredibly lonely, alienating experience. This is especially true for those who don’t receive regular visits from friends or family members. Fortunately, volunteers have the power to transform those negative experiences by bringing compassion and positivity to an otherwise sterile environment. Most hospitals offer a variety of opportunities, from candy striping to manning an information kiosk or even knitting! Of course, you should expect to undergo an application and health screening process if you decide to pursue this route. Depending on the hospital you volunteer with, you may need to attend an orientation session or training program. 

Make some new furry friends.

If you’re an animal lover, volunteering at a local shelter can be an especially fulfilling way to make an impact. The time commitments and tasks expected of volunteers will vary from shelter to shelter.  Some shelters will require you to go through an application or training process. While some shelters may allow volunteers to walk in at their convenience, others adhere to a set schedule and will assign you hours on a week-to-week basis. To get a better idea of what to expect, schedule a consultation with each of the shelters in your area. 

Embrace your love for mother nature.

If you’re the type of person who is happiest when soaking up the sunshine and natural beauty of our planet, then you’d be an excellent candidate for the U.S. National Park Service’s VIP (Volunteers-in-Parks) program. Their database allows you to find the most up-to-date and relevant roles for your interests, age, location, and skill or fitness level. While some positions require special training, knowledge or skills, many jobs require nothing beyond your desire to volunteer.

Become a cultural conservationist.

Do you have a passion for art or history? Do you enjoy sharing your knowledge with others? If you answered yes to both questions, you’d probably enjoy volunteering at a local museum as a docent. This role will likely require you to attend a training program of some kind. While hosting your tours will be your primary responsibility as a docent, you may also be asked to undertake other tasks, such as answering phones or manning an information desk. Additionally, some museums will expect a regular commitment of your time for up to a year.

Keep democracy alive.

As a U.S. citizen, you have a right for your voice to be heard via our democratic process. While you may not be interested in running for local office, there are a variety of ways you can make an impact on a local, state, or national level. Regardless of the time you are willing to commit or the extent to which you would like to get involved, The Center for Civic Education has some ideas that can help you get started. Here are just a few that we think are most helpful:

Do your research.

Stay informed! Keep up with current events, and share your learnings with others. But when you do, make sure that your sources are credible. You don’t want to propagate false information or “fake news”. Nor do you want your own vote to be swayed by these false narratives.

Cast your vote.

Vote in all elections, not just the big ones. Your vote is the most direct way to make an impact on the laws of our nation. Far too many people justify staying home on election days by assuming their vote doesn’t really matter. If everyone adopted that mindset, our democracy itself would be useless!

Get involved.

Sign petitions, and write letters to your representatives. Engage in political discussions, especially when regarding the topics or issues that you are most passionate about.
Volunteer your time & voice by canvassing for a candidate you believe in, participating in a phone banking event, or helping out at your local polling place on election day.

Be at the right place at the right time.

If you’re looking to make a significant impact on someone’s life when they are most in need of help, you’ll need to pay attention to what’s happening in your community in real time. Volunteers and donations are always needed in the wake of natural disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Similarly, certain times of the year can provide unique opportunities for getting involved. The holiday season, for example, is ripe with opportunities to make a difference. You can organize a canned food drive in your neighborhood. Cook and serve holiday dinners at your local church, or collect toys for less fortunate children in your community. Keep an eye on the local section of your newspaper and community bulletin boards to stay informed as new needs arise in your area.   

Work with a nonprofit organization you believe in.

We are living in the golden age of the nonprofit. If you can think of a problem that is facing our planet or its people, there is likely an organization out there dedicated to solving it. Some of these organizations are dedicated to furthering research into cures for particular diseases or ailments. Others are focused on advancing social causes, and others have religious or educational goals they are working towards. If you have relevant skills or knowledge, they may have a hands-on volunteer role for you in their offices. If the organization is more research-oriented, educating others about the goals of the organization might be a more valuable contribution. Not sure which nonprofit would be a good fit for you? Check out VolunteerMatch, a website dedicated to connecting nonprofits with volunteers. Their handy search tool allows you to filter your search by location, category, or interest.

Create your own opportunity.

If you recognize a need that isn’t being addressed in your community or in the world at large, you might be just the person for the job. Depending on the scope of your mission, getting your project off the ground might seem daunting or even impossible. Fortunately, there are platforms out there, like Create the Good, that can help by providing tools and how-to guides to get you started down the right path. With a good idea and good intentions, any efforts you make are sure to have a positive impact. Visit the article below if you’d like to continue reading about volunteer opportunities for retirees. 

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Not sure where to start?

Read our quick-start guide for help, including which questions you should be asking as you approach retirement.

Read our quick start guide