Seniors with abundant free time often find it to be a mixed blessing. Retirement, for example, may be accompanied by a shift in self-identity and leave the retiree at a loss over what to do with all that time. As the Harvard Medical School health blog has observed, retirement ranks among life’s most stressful events.
However, research indicates that staying active and volunteering your time, energy and knowledge to your local community, or to society at large, is an effective way for seniors to retain a sense of purpose and satisfaction, while deriving physical and mental benefits as well. The National Institutes of Health lists a longer life span, less susceptibility to depression, and even improved cognitive abilities among the potential rewards.
Among the best ways to make a difference is by mentoring. Seniors with a successful career in entrepreneurship, for example, may be good candidates for coaching young men and women in starting or growing a business. The U.S. Small Business Administration and many university business schools are examples of institutions in need of qualified mentors. Mentoring children is another option.
Besides mentoring, there are countless ways for seniors to volunteer on behalf of deserving causes. Schools, libraries, community theaters, arts groups, museums, hospitals and houses of worship all rely in part on the services of volunteers. So do public interest groups, such as The League of Women Voters. You may have specialized skills and knowledge to offer; for example, museums greatly appreciate art and history lovers who can serve as well-informed docents. Or you may simply possess the ability to contribute basic organizational and efficiency skills, which always are in demand by local organizations.
Not to be overlooked in the realm of volunteer options are the needs of fellow seniors in your community. Many older citizens with disabilities are in need of assistance with routine chores, such as food shopping, trips to a doctor, bill paying (actually writing and mailing checks) and maybe even dog walking or other pet needs. Check for community organizations at the county or city level that focus on seniors and can use your help.
Still another important form of volunteerism is fundraising for charitable entities. Some seniors are motivated to this activity because of some personal or family history with a particular illness, or perhaps because they know someone who was sadly affected by a preventable event, such as drunk driving.
Thousands of charitable organizations solicit funds today. However, before lending your valuable efforts to a cause, be sure the organization (not the cause, but the organization itself) is a bona fide charity that spends most of the money it raises on services, rather than on executive salaries and fundraising. If you have any doubts, you can consult an independent watchdog to be certain. There are plenty of resources out there.
Helping others and making a difference is a great way for seniors to help themselves, as well. It can help keep you mentally sharp and actively involved in your community, and help to foster a feeling of purpose knowing that your lifetime experiences and skills are being put to good use.