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Boomer Bytes #38: Helping Others with Your Skills

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Helping Others with Your Skills

By Steve Canipe

Oct. 3, 2014. How many of you do something that you really love to do and provide help to others while you are doing it? Last week I talked about photography, which is a pretty personal pursuit but it can help good causes as well. There are some photographers who take the most darling pictures of adoptable pets ready for adoption. All of us have probably seen the tragic photos of pets in crisis on television where various organizations are asking for money to make sure that these abused and neglected pets get food and treatment.

This week I wanted to explore a couple of other hobbies that have real potential for helping others. A couple of them, I have no personal knowledge of, but I am drawing on my experience in working around someone who does – my Dad and my wife in particular. My Bytes column #9 dealt with hobbies in a general way and column #11 dealt with volunteering and you may want to reread them. Press here to go to the Hobby column or here to go to the column devoted to Volunteering. This column is sort of merging of these two previous ones.

My Dad was always willing to help others with his ability to create things from wood. I can remember as a small boy helping him by bringing nails, tools, etc. as he was building or repairing something for someone. My Dad grew up in a farming family and was pretty much always poor, working in the NC textile industry as an adult. What he lacked in money, he made up for in kindness to others. He could not donate a lot of money, but he could and did donate his time. I remember one time after he had retired from his textile job and had taken up his woodworking hobby full-time; there was a request from a local elementary school for some play furniture for the children. Dad built a lot of it for several classrooms and other than getting money for the materials, he charged nothing for his time. There were other instances where he did similar things, helping with furniture for families who needed some piece or other but could not afford to pay to get the furniture done.

Lots of individuals get pleasure from taking a piece of wood and turning it into something beautiful and functional. This is true in increasing fashion for women as well as men. It used to be that woodworking was a male-dominated activity but as more females decide (and rightfully so) that there is nothing in men’s Y-chromosome that makes them better woodworkers, women are entering this hobby/pastime. There is even a website devoted to women in the woodworking area. See it here.

Other areas that were previously dominated by one gender or another are the knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, and quilting domains. Previously this area was heavily dominated by women but as the professional football player Rosey Greer broke the mold in the 1970s, more men are now pursuing these needlework activities. Other famous men who have been shown doing needlework activities include Franklin Roosevelt and Cary Grant. My Dad could knit, at least he told me so; and did socks when he was younger.

Individuals who have a skill like photography, woodworking, or needlework can find ready outlets for their products in many volunteer activities. During the winter we spend a lot of time in Tucson, AZ. The church we attend there, Casa Adobes UCC, is heavily involved in outreach in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico – just across the border form Nogales, AZ. The town on the border is only about 70 miles south of Tucson thus making it about the same distance as Boone to Winston-Salem.

The group at the church is called N4NC (Needles for Nogales Children) and is comprised of workers who knit, crochet, and sew. Not only do the individuals do the work, several members of the congregation go to Sonora on a weekly basis to teach the local people how to do the same kind of work. This allows them to make sweaters to help overcome the cold winter temperatures. The local organization is called HEPAC (Hogar de Esperanza y Paz or Home of Hope and Peace). Not only do the workers learn the needlework, the children are fed a nutritious meal each day either on their way to or from the local school. In Nogales, Sonora children at the elementary level only go to school half a day. So the children coming home from morning sessions and the ones heading to afternoon sessions merge around noon for lunch.

Skills don’t always have to be something that you do after work or in your spare time. Using all your talents either vocational or avocational to help others is one way that those of you who are boomers can give back. One great way to use knowledge is to work through non-profit or religious groups. They are always looking for monetary contributions but are also looking for “shoes on site” to fill in missing needs.

Many of us no longer work fulltime or if we do, we have lots of flexibility with our scheduling of our working times. My wife and I have volunteered through a program called VIP. This program matched our teaching and presentation skills and we worked as educational interpreters at Wupatki National Monument in Arizona for about 5 years. We went out to the site one day a week and provided relief for the rangers as we shared our knowledge of the ruins from the early Puebloan people (probably ancestors of present day Hopi) with the visitors. By visiting the VIP site, you can search for opportunities that match your skill-set that are nearby or if you have a camper you can travel to lots of places around the country.

There is another site that is more broadly based and often has more opportunities called Volunteer.gov. It was through this organization that we did a two month stint at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge run by the National Fish and Wildlife Service. We lived on site near the town of Socorro, NM in a government owned trailer called a park model. Our task was to organize materials and create lesson plans for helping educate teachers and students about the Mexican gray wolf. The site at Sevilleta was the place where the wolves were bred for release in New Mexico and Arizona. It was a joint effort of the University of New Mexico and the National Fish and Wildlife Service. It was a great opportunity to use our educational administrative and curriculum skills to create something of use to a broad audience. We received no pay except we paid nothing for the 400 sq. foot “home” we occupied during our time there.

We’ve had friends who had been bookstore managers who volunteered to run the book shops at national parks in Washington and Oregon. We met them at Wupatki NM in Arizona. Again there is no pay but the adventure is there.

Many groups of church-based volunteers have traveled to many places to do good work like refurbishing Orphanage #105 in Moscow and building a school and dorm near Arusha, Tanzania. (These activities were organized by FaithWorks in Arizona.)  My wife and I have had the opportunity to do the work in Moscow with FaithWorks and also travel to Guatemala with the United Methodist Church of Boone to help complete work on an educational wing at a church near Chichicastenango. So there is no dearth of places near and far that you can volunteer and give back. Whatever your skills – organizational, teaching, woodworking, music, you name it, there is a need for you. Check at your church or just get on line and do a search – in looking up volunteer opportunities in Boone, I found that there are 43 opportunities as of this writing. Visit the site here to see what they are. Remember the national sites listed earlier with VIP and Volunteer.gov.

I encourage all Boomers to find your passion and volunteer to make a difference with your hobby work or your vocation. Giving back is important and volunteering time is very valuable especially if it is something that we really enjoy – we gain and others gain as well. Remember one of the mottos of our youth – “if it feels good, DO IT!!” If your hobbies are useful use them both to enjoy yourself and do good for others. In the U.S. according to the National Center for Policy Analysis website, we retirement aged people spend about 1.5% of our incomes on hobbies. Make it count for good!!

Let me hear from you on using your skills to help others and help yourself have fun!! Send your thoughts, either via email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com or post them at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.