Volunteering after Retirement – Proceed with caution!

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By Diane Gorgy

Retirement is a huge step.  Most of us go from working 40+ hours a week to zero within 24 hours.  So, in order to keep our minds and bodies in an “on” mode, we often look for ways to spend our free time in a way that benefit our community or society in general.  

In our “past life”, volunteerism was often part of the expectations of the job.  We likely had to volunteer for the United Way Campaign, the Red Cross Blood Drive, various political action groups, serve meals at the local soup kitchen, mentor younger staff members, etc.  If you are a parent, you may have served on the school PTA, became a class mother/father, or volunteered to chaperone at or coordinate various school events.   You spent all this time volunteering, plus your regular job!

So, now that you’ve give up the nine-to-five and all associated with it, what are you going to do to keep you busy?  Words of advice from an experienced retiree/volunteer – PROCEED WITH CAUTION!  Do not jump in feet-first without putting a lot of thought into it.  

When I retired 3 years ago, plus moved to a new area, I panicked about finding things to volunteer for.  I desperately scanned the local newspapers for postings by organizations, clubs and non-profits that were looking for volunteers.  I quickly found several that met locally and seemed to fit my background.  I called the contact number for one of the organizations, and attended their next meeting.  The people seemed friendly, the organization was aligned with my beliefs, and their monthly meeting was held at a local restaurant – seemed perfect!  After paying my annual membership dues and being inducted as an official member, I realized that this was not really what I wanted to do in my retirement years.  In fact, it very much mimicked what I was doing throughout my 40+ years in business.  Not that this global, non-profit organization wasn’t supporting a worthwhile cause, it was just that I realized I didn’t want to be doing the “same old same old” thing that I did for 40 years.  

After further research, I found many other local clubs and volunteer activities that I thought would be more interesting – including various animal/bird sanctuaries, a quilting club, mentoring opportunities at a local elementary school, several  animal rescues, the local library club, etc.  There was no lack of interesting things to do.  Things that I was actually really interested in but never had the opportunity to do when I was working full-time.  

The unfortunate part of this story is that once you join an organization, if you’re like me, you get sucked in very quickly and have a hard time extracting yourself.  Non-profit organizations really need people to put time in to keep their events and fundraising going, so you can become a vital part of the group very quickly.  And for me, how could I say no to fighting against domestic violence, human trafficking, and homelessness?  Not to mention all the nice people I met in the group.  So, needless to say, I am still part of the organization I initially joined when I retired.  And it takes up a lot of my time. 

My best advice is to do your research.  First make a list of things you always wanted to do but never had the chance to – whether it’s bird watching, fighting for the environment, volunteering at a local animal shelter, or even learning Mahjong.  Go on-line, pick up the local town papers, go onto the town websites, and look for local organizations that provide an opportunity to do the things you are passionate about.  Take your time to learn about each organization or group by attending meetings without making an immediate commitment.  For example, I love dogs and cats, but never could take on a herd of foster animals in my home.  I learned that I could support a local animal rescue without actually fostering – I could screen on-line applications or even do home visits!  Whatever it is that you are passionate about; there is a volunteer opportunity for you to do it.  You just need to be patient and do your research.  

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