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Boomer Bytes #11: Volunteering

Editor’s Note: Below is Steve Canipe’s fourth column in his 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.

  • See second column – Are We Really Old? – here
  • See third column – Cars and More Cars – here
  • See fourth column – Getting Educated – here
  • See fifth column – Home Alone? – here
  • See sixth column – Death – here
  • See seventh column – They’re Playing Our Song – here
  • See eighth column – Driving: Knowing When To Quit – here.
  • See ninth column – Hobbies: What’s Your Favorite – here
  • See 10th column –  ‘The Last of Life, for which the First was Made’ – here


By Steve Canipe

March 28, 2014. What have you done for me lately?  This sort of funny, half teasing question has taken on a life of its own for many boomers.  As more and more of us end our regular jobs and are searching around for something to remain useful and relevant, we need to seek out new things to do.

In last week’s column, I alluded to whether maintaining us was a boon or bane for society.  I made the comment that through volunteering, we could be sure that we were giving back and not just taking.  Some see our taking being extra medical costs, social security, and other subsidies.  We probably feel this is our due because we worked for 40+ years and because of our previous monetary contributions to the social security and Medicare systems.


While all those dollars we paid into social security and Medicare have long since been used up by our parents and grandparents, we are now collecting some of them back from our children.  Since we may be living longer, the value of our contributions may get used up – thus the original question to this column, “What have you done for me lately?”

Class warfare has been a rallying cry in some political debates; do we want age warfare similar to what was discussed in exploring Logan’s Run from last week’s column? I believe I speak for the vast majority of those in my generation of boomers that we do not want to be a burden on society or our children. So what can we do to help?

Helping can take many forms from babysitting our grandchildren, thus allowing our children greater freedom from both worry and cost, to working in non-profits to help generally.  I am not going to explore the family obligation type of volunteering.  I want to look at those areas that are outside the family.

Based on some data reported in Forbes, boomers are not volunteering as much as one might expect. The latest data was from 2013 and for those aged 45-65+ (I know this is not boomer ages but this is the way Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks the numbers down) was 32.8 million down from 33.8 in 2012.  Percentage numbers of those volunteering for the overall U.S. population dropped 1.1% but for those who would definitely be boomers (ages 55-65+) the drop was almost 2 percent.

What are the factors involved in these comparatively low numbers?  I believe we have considered ourselves the original give-back generation so perhaps a reason is that we boomers are looking for something other than traditional stuffing envelopes and answering phones. We have not found ourselves truly engaged in helping in ways that we find are most meaningful.

According to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and called Volunteering in the United States, the most often selected way to help others was by preparing and serving food but a very close second came in as “providing professional or management assistance, including serving on a board or committee.” This second way seems to resonate with boomers who want to give something back to the community.

A number of folks, at or nearing retirement, enjoy doing something that is sort of related to their careers and others like to do things that are substantially different.  Look at myself as an example.  There are two major types of volunteering that I find myself gravitating toward. 

One of these is doing mission work with a church or similar helping organization.  Not only is the work itself very rewarding to me, I hope it is useful to others as well.  As a church volunteer, I have had the opportunity to work on projects in the United States doing maintenance work in a religious retreat, rehabbing a church on the Navajo reservation, and building handicap accessible walkways at a church. I have also been fortunate to be able to travel internationally while rehabbing an orphanage in Moscow; building a Habitat for Humanity house in Mexico, doing Christian outreach in India, and doing finishing work on an educational wing of a church in Guatemala.

My second type of volunteer work was more in line with my administrative career.  While living in Arizona prior to moving to Boone, I served on the boards of Habitat for Humanity and FaithWorks, which is a group of 23 churches in northern Arizona that banded together to do mission work.  In a similar vein I did volunteer interpretative work at Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, AZ and was an educational program volunteer at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico working on the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction project. I also was a reader for Sun Sounds, a radio service for the visually impaired; reading newspapers but also reading books on tape for the audience.

Churches are always looking for volunteers to help in many ways.  If you have not looked in this area and are interested in volunteering to help others, I would suggest you contact your local church.  If there is not a project you happen to be interested in, see if you can organize one.  These can use as much time as you have to offer.  If you have some specialized skill like plumbing, electrical, home building, teaching, medicine—just about anything, there is a need for your help. Don’t wait to be asked.

For those interested in doing some travel or being otherwise engaged in the National Parks, there is a program called V.I.P. – Volunteers-in-Parks. There is a national database for work including outside the park system at Volunteer.gov.  You can put in your requirements and see if there is an opportunity.  These opportunities tend to be short-term, like the two months I spent on the gray wolf project or longer term like the one day per week I spent at Wupatki for about three years. If you are interested in traveling you can sometimes find housing or take a travel trailer – there are lots of options for doing work.  The work need not be interpretative – there are numerous types of volunteer positions from running bookstores, doing trail maintenance, and any number of other things. I did a quick search on the Volunteer.gov for opportunities in North Carolina and found 25 volunteer jobs – some in parks both federal and state, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Geological Service. 

If you have access online, just do a search on “volunteer and boomer”—you will get more than a million hits.  One report, in addition to the one mentioned earlier by the BLS, that you will find a good read, is one at Volunteer Match.org

Don’t think that you have to be limited to volunteer opportunities in the U.S.; by doing a web search I found some international opportunities at Cross Cultural Solutions and International Volunteer Corps. The well-respected American Association for Retired Persons, AARP also has opportunities listed.  If you want to volunteer to do something, there is an organization out there to help connect you and the opportunity you are seeking.  Be proactive and look!!

Giving back is important and volunteering time is very valuable.  It can be as simple as being a reading buddy in a local school or helping shelve books in the local library.  Let’s remember one of the mottos of our youth – “if it feels good, DO IT!!”

Let me hear from you on your volunteerism and how the work is increasing your value to the community.  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.