Senior volunteering – something for everyone

A senior tutoring and mentoring an elementary school student.

“I’ll be retirement age in April, and then I face the void,” my friend said to me a few weeks ago. When I asked what she meant, she said that she was afraid to retire. She loved her job, and derived much of her identify from her work. “I don’t know what to do next,” she replied.

Fortunately, there are many options for older adults after retirement. With the ageing of the world’s population, older adults are a naturally replenishing resource. And they have wealth of experience to share with others. Finding an organisation with which to volunteer can be fulfilling, and can be a big help to other people.

Are all older adults ready and willing to volunteer? The answer depends on several things. First, it depends on the nature of the volunteer job. Do you agree with the mission of the organisation? Does the organisation have a volunteer job that “fits” with your skills and interests? Do you receive on-the-job training? Are there easy ways to communicate with staff members, and are you kept “in the loop?” Are you recognised for your contributions?

Second, older people need to know that volunteering has health benefits. Research shows that volunteers live longer than non-volunteers. They also report that volunteering helps them stay active, increase physical and cognitive functioning, reduce depression, and increase life satisfaction.

Third, research shows that older adults are more ready to volunteer if they have experience with volunteering. It may be easier for young volunteers to turn into old volunteers, than for people to start volunteering in old age. Thus, policymakers should consider ways to encourage and reward volunteering across the life course.

Every country has its own examples of good programmes. Some successful volunteering programs in the US include:

  • AARP Executive Corps – an award-winning national programme that engages people over 55 in tutoring and mentoring elementary school students, helping teachers in the classroom, and leading after-school enrichment activities.
  • Senior Corps – a network of programmes that link older adults to agencies serving vulnerable populations. Although volunteers are not paid, they are covered by liability and accident insurance, and receive assistance with transportation and meals.
    • Foster Grandparents connects volunteers age 55 and over with children and young people with exceptional needs.
    • Senior Companions brings together volunteers age 55 and over with adults in their community who have difficulty with the simple tasks of day-to-day living.
    • RSVP offers “one-stop shopping” for all volunteers 55 and over who want to find challenging, rewarding and significant service opportunities in their local communities.
  • Volunteer Match – a US website that allows you to enter the city where you’d like a volunteer opportunity and gives you a list of options. 

A senior volunteering at AARP Executive Corps.

After my friend and I talked, she went online to look at volunteer opportunities of interest to her. She was pleased to find that the Honolulu Film Festival was looking for volunteers. She was recruited to welcome film viewers at one of the festival theaters. She loves film, and was thrilled to see seven new films over the course of the week. She also met local producers, directors, actors and other film buffs. These new connections have led her to other volunteer opportunities with people she enjoys being with.

There are many options for volunteering. With a little searching, one can find an opportunity that is right for him or her. One can start volunteering at any time, and the benefits will follow.


– Dr Kathryn L Braun is professor and chair of the DrPH Program in the Department of Public Health Sciences of the University of Hawaii. She has a joint appointment with the School of Social Work, where she serves as co-investigator of the National Resource Center for Native Hawaiian Elders. She is affiliated with the UH Center on Aging, through which she serves as evaluator for the Hawaii Healthy Aging Partnership, dedicated to building capacity to deliver evidence-based health promotion programs for older adults.

(** Photographs © By Alex Harris for AARP Executive Corps.)


You may also like reading:

One Response to “Senior volunteering – something for everyone”

  1. fddf May 30, 2012 at 5:09 PM #

    wow this makes volunteering sound good

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image

You must be logged in to post a comment.