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Volunteer at 50+ and Leave the World a Bit Better

January 26, 2018 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

At this time of year, don't just write a check, roll up your sleeves, find your voice and do good! 

It’s a new year and we are among those who feel that one person can make a difference even in a world beset by so many problems. Each of us wants to leave the world a better place than we found it. We have kids and grandkids. Now’s our chance to foster change. 

As baby boomers, we envision these years as an extraordinary opportunity to volunteer and make a difference in so many ways--not just by writing checks but by rolling up our sleeves and digging in with action and words. The recipients we think are greatly in need make up a very long list: our country, states, cities, villages and towns, health-care and educational systems, older population which is often isolated and lonely, workplaces and public parks. 

And that's just the beginning of a very long list we could come up with. The good news is that we've learned that no single-approach works for all when it comes to volunteer opportunities and action. There are those who like to mentor, do office work, teach art, drama or crafts, tutor or support learning, do youth works, run events and do stewarding, to name just a few possibilities. Many folks we know like to sit on nonprofit boards because they have strong administrative skills and like the camaraderie that comes with such togetherness. 

We are hands-on women. At one point, Barbara baked weekly for the Girls Club of New York, making cookies and brownies with a much younger staff. After 9/11, she decided to write small profiles as The New York Times newspaper had done of those who were lost during that tragedy. Her idea was to profile the living who had contributed in different ways to her women’s college. By describing the accomplishments of many talented alums, she hoped to rev up interest in more women helping the school. The profiles are published monthly online in the college newsletter. She is now starting to work on another project, which would involve having the college's regional clubs around the world organize breakfasts on a single day as a fund-raising effort in unison. 

Margaret currently works with kids in various capacities, from tutoring, reading to underserved preschool children to mentoring inner city middle school girls. For 11 years, Margaret was a Court Appointed Special Advocate. She quit when her husband became ill because it was too time consuming. And she was working then full time. After he passed away, she began volunteering with kids again, wanting to help others, just as she and her husband had done. Together, they had volunteered in a shelter during the 1992 floods in St. Louis. And if he had lived, they had planned to go abroad and volunteer, possibly help build housing or teaching English to children. 

What will you do? It can be as simple as writing a letter to your Congressional leaders to encourage them to take a stand. It can translate into standing up in a town meeting and voicing your opinion, or forming a non-profit to help get kids off the street and away from bad influences such as drugs and alcohol. 

A friend of ours teaches knitting to kids. Another volunteers to coach soccer for inner city kids. A relative spends one day a week volunteering to work with seniors…reading to them, fixing something that’s broken in their homes or just serving as a companion so they don’t feel so alone. Others we know drive seniors to important appointments since they may not have transportation. Margaret has two friends who work in food pantries helping clients shop or serving food to the homeless especially during holiday time. Another friend does intake at a homeless shelter using her background in social work. A man we know takes kids on missions through his church to build houses for poor folks.  Those who are technically proficient, volunteer to teach seniors how to email, work an iphone, ipad or any number of computer programs. An accountant friend helps seniors do their taxes. An attorney walks seniors through the process of applying for Medicare. 

The opportunities are clearly endless. Everyone can play a role, since who doesn't have a little time to devote to someone less well off physically, mentally and financially. 

While it may seem more special when you become a trailblazer and do something that's needed and nobody else has yet done, don't let that deter you! Do something! If you're not sure what, go online and find a fit by reading up on do-gooders, read in the newspaper about activities currently going on that might appeal, or talk to family and friends about what's given them great joy through their volunteer activities.

Nothing feels as good as doing good. You most likely will gain the opportunity to change yourself by working with others and leaving a legacy. A legacy isn’t about having a statue built in your honor or your name placed in a big bold font on a building--a museum as the main character in the TV show Billions did, or even a wonderful obit in a paper or an epitaph written on your gravestone. It’s about making a big difference in the here and now and after.  




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