The Art of Retirement…What’s in it for me?  The many benefits of volunteering.

As we exit our full-time careers, many of us discover that our work provided us with much more than just a paycheck. It also supplied us with a comfortable routine; built in social connection and support; and a sense of accomplishment and contribution. For some, our role at work was also at the root of our sense of personal identity. Some retirees find ways to replace the elements above by pursuing an old or new hobby, traveling extensively, or becoming deeply engaged in caring for younger or older family members.  Others may still be seeking ways to meet those needs.  The right volunteer activity can tick off all of those boxes. 

The intent of this – the first of a three-part series about volunteering­ – is not to imply that you “should” use your new-found freedom and time to volunteer! Instead, the intent of the series is to provide you with information in case you decide to pursue volunteer activities as part of your new life. First, we will consider the benefits of volunteering.  Next month, we will explore ways to discover what types of volunteer activities might be the best fit for you. And finally, in September, I hope to be able to present information about specific volunteer activities in our own area.

Here is a plea!  If you are an agency or organization seeking volunteers, please email me at with information you would like me to share about your needs and who to contact for more information.  Thanks!

Let’s begin with some of the personal benefits of volunteering your time and talents in service to causes that are meaningful to you.

  1. Volunteering is good for your mental health. A growing body of research indicates that volunteering slows the cognitive decline of aging. Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates and less depression along with a greater sense of control over one’s life and higher rates of self-esteem and happiness. Many who volunteer experience a “giver’s high.”
  2. Volunteering is good for your physical health. Regular physical activity makes an impact on our health and longevity. Volunteering will help grow strength, endurance and stamina by getting you up and moving.  Some types of volunteer jobs are particularly suited for boosting your health such as working charitable runs, building homes for the homeless, packing backpacks or boxes at food banks, volunteering at hospitals, assisting with a community garden, and dog walking at a local shelter.
  3. Volunteering provides social connection and support. Social isolation is a recognized health hazard of our later years. Regularly volunteering keeps loneliness at bay.  It is also a terrific way to meet like-minded people if you are new to town.  I recently encountered a volunteer at the Flowering Bridge who enthusiastically told me, “I was new to town and knew no one but now this person here along with others are my good friends on and off the bridge.”
  4. Volunteering helps you establish a routine. We all have varying needs for structure in our lives.Unstructured time is one of the benefits of retirement but too much unstructured time can lead to feeling aimless and bored. Having a regular volunteer commitment tends to help you get up each morning with excitement and purpose.
  5. Volunteering gives you a feeling of accomplishment and contribution.  There can be great satisfaction in knowing that you are still needed and can make a difference.  and that all of the experience and know-how you have gained through life can be used to provide value for others.
  6. Volunteering helps you forge a new sense of personal identity. You now have an answer when you get asked the question “what do you do?”

Cindy DeHaven, a volunteer at Hickory Nut Gorge Outreach, shared these words with me when asked about the personal benefits she receives from volunteering. “Volunteering is so good for the volunteer, at least it is for me. I have met so many other volunteers and it is a good social networking in my life. Volunteering gives me such a blessed feeling to be able to give back to the less fortunate in our community. I really look forward to the afternoon I volunteer, for just 3 hours, knowing I will help someone today and to be a small part of a very worthwhile cause.”    

Pamela Karr is a Career counselor and a Certified Professional Retirement Coach and can be reached at

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