The perks of volunteering after retirement

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Sally Grub, 70, is an office volunteer at the Cancer Resource Center, but that’s not the only organization she’s been involved with.

“I have volunteered ever since I came to Ithaca in my 30s,” she said.

Since moving to Ithaca from the United Kingdom, Grub has volunteered for her church, her school and area organizations that she cares about. And that experience has shown her how volunteerism shifts as one gets older.

“It’s changed because I have more time,” Grub said. “I’ve been able to commit daytime hours on a regular basis and to commit helping at a specific time knowing that I’m not working anywhere else.”

As Grub and others can attest, after retirement, one tends to have more free time but less socialization opportunities, and volunteering for an organization they care about can help provide purpose and friends to the volunteers and bring much-needed help to organizations in the county.

Judy McIntyre, 82, has been a Way2Go volunteer for a few years now after retiring from a 30-year-long teaching position. Once she stopped teaching, she said, she still wanted to carry out that mission of helping others by helping veterans.

“I wanted to continue being of a value and get people to see their value,” she said. “The vets have to see that they’re needed, too.”

Grub said she appreciates the added flexibility that comes with volunteering.

“Because I’m a volunteer and I’m not receiving a paycheck, if I can’t go in for any reason, I just let them know that I can’t come in, unlike when you have a job, you have to go in,” she said.

David Means, 79, and John Maceli, 75, are Gadabout volunteers, and they can attest to having more time to commit to volunteering after retirement. Means retired from a dairy farm, while Maceli retired from a professorship at Ithaca College. Means said he started volunteering after retirement to maintain a sense of purpose, similar to McIntyre.

“As a farmer, I never really had time,” he said. “When I retired, I said ‘well, I should do something.’”

Maceli, like Grub, had volunteered prior to retirement but found he had more time later in life. He and Means have loved the opportunity to socialize with others their age and give back to the community.

“I thought it would be interesting, and then I just got hooked on it and did it,” he said. “Then, as I had more free time, I decided to increase the amount of time. … I enjoy driving, and the people that we drive are really interesting people.”

Means and Maceli can share numerous stories about the people they’ve helped, and meeting unique people makes the work well worth it. Means said that volunteering allowed him to help in ways he couldn’t working on a farm full time.

“I felt like I never did much for my fellow human beings,” he said. “My parents both did some volunteer work, and I was just brought up thinking it’s a good thing to do. It’s very rewarding, really.”

And the benefit spreads to those on the receiving end of that volunteer work, too. McIntyre has seen the difference she can make on the lives of the people she helps, as she can often help veterans feel valued.

“I’m someone that they can depend on,” she said. “I am someone that brings them comfort and keeping the discussion light. … It’s a good feeling for me to know that I’m doing something that’s helpful for people.”

As far as where to volunteer, Wendy Yettru, manager of volunteer services at Hospicare, said it all depends on what the retiree is interested in. Yettru said about 40% of Hospicare patient care volunteers are retirees, and many have a personal connection to the services.

“Volunteering is based on interest and what speaks to your heart, to your passion, so … the people that end up here have often had some sort of experience with hospice being a positive thing for someone they knew and loved,” Yettru said.

Yettru had this advice to offer for retirees looking to volunteer.

“Get involved with what speaks to them,” she said. “What is their passion? What do they feel passionately about in their community? Because they will show up both emotionally and physically if they’re invested.”

Grub offered similar advice, adding that finding something you’re passionate about can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.

“Do something that you’re interested in,” she said. “Don’t do something that is a grind. … You should volunteer because it’s a pleasure. You should volunteer because it’s really important to you that an organization is successful.”

Grub said there are plenty of great places to look for volunteer opportunities, from churches to nonprofits to libraries. Ultimately, volunteering can be rewarding and provide help and purpose.

“The pay you get is the benefit you give to the organization and the thanks you get from them,” Grub said. “And you get great enjoyment doing the work. … It’s worth it because it’s the way we help each other.”

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