Boomers redefine volunteering, retirement - Catholic Courier

Boomers redefine volunteering, retirement

Sue Norton of Auburn may be emblematic of baby boomer volunteers.

Like many of her fellow boomers, Norton has redefined vocabulary around volunteering and retirement. She noted that as co-coordinator of St. Alphonsus Food Pantry in Auburn with her husband, Charles, she dubs herself a volunteer, even though she is paid for 10 hours of work a week. That”s because she also puts in double that amount of unpaid work each week at the pantry.

Like other boomers, who researchers say have tended to shy away from the term retired, Norton calls herself semi-retired. She has worked at the pantry for the past 20 years, ever since making the switch from retail employment.

"They say you get more than you give, and maybe that’s true," she said. "To me, I have a feeling that I’m doing something worthwhile — not because it’s my job. It’s because I want to do it."

As the nation’s more than 75 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 redefine what it means to volunteer and retire, many may be looking for ways to make their communities better, according to a 2004 report "Reinventing Aging: Baby Boomers and Civic Engagement" by the Harvard School of Public Health-MetLife Foundation Initiative on Retirement and Civic Engagement.

"There is an opportunity to help boomers create a social legacy of profound importance," the report said. "Their added years of life give them the chance. Their experiences in life give them the capability. And the need to come to terms with the world in a way that brings integrity to their life gives them the psychological incentive."

The report’s focus is on helping communities tap into the potential influx of boomer volunteers. It calls on nonprofits to accommodate boomer volunteers’ interests, preferences and time commitments; promotes unified efforts to recruit, train and refer boomer volunteers; and suggests some form of compensation to ease transitions from full-time employment to civic engagement. It also suggests highlighting intergenerational opportunities, encourages communities to use boomers to tackle local problems and notes that religious organizations play a role in any plan.

"Faith-based organizations, which have traditionally served as the most extensive home base for voluntary community service in the United States, will most likely remain a critical component of any new infrastructure," the report said.

There also are large economic incentives to encouraging volunteering, according to 2007 statistics released by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal organization that coordinates AmeriCorps and three SeniorCorps programs: Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP. By contributing free labor, volunteers save New York”s economy an estimated $7.1 billion a year and they contribute an estimated $457 million to the Rochester-area economy.

However, volunteers may be an underutilized resource, the corporation’s statistics state. In 2007, New York trailed the nation in per-capita numbers of overall volunteers (2.8 million), per-capita numbers of hours they served (397.9 million) and the percent of volunteers (18.4 as compared to the national figure of 26.2 percent). The Greater Rochester has an average volunteer rate of 26.9 percent, with 209,700 volunteers serving 25.6 million hours per year.

About 27 percent of Rochester-area baby boomers currently volunteer, as compared to the national average of 31 percent, the corporation’s statistics report. Sue Miller, a stay-at-home mom and volunteer hospice chaplain through Lifetime Care’s nondenominational chaplaincy program, is an example of a boomer who has been volunteering for years, even as she juggled family and other priorities.

According to the Reinventing Aging report, volunteering generally peaks in a person’s mid life, not in retirement, but it noted that recent retirees volunteer with more frequency than mid-life volunteers.

Miller, a Victor resident and a parishioner of St. Patrick Church there, said she and her mother were prompted to begin volunteering for hospice organizations more than 12 years ago following the sudden deaths of family members several years prior. The volunteer chaplaincy work has since led her to take a job teaching death and dying courses at Monroe Community College.

She said hospice volunteering both enriches her life and reminds her of the importance of living a full life.

"We take our life for granted," Miller said. "We think that every single morning we will rise again."

Like Miller, Martha Rouin is quick to point out how volunteering has enriched her life. She said volunteering helped her stay active after she retired as a social worker at a Bath nursing home in 1988. Rouin, a lector at St. Gabriel Church in Hammondsport, said new baby boomer volunteers are needed to help those of her generation who are no longer able to volunteer.

"Unless (retirees) go into another job, it’s really important to get back into the active life," said Rouin, who volunteers at her local library, the Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport and by singing with a local choir.

Even those who do get second careers can still make a positive difference in the world, according to the San Francisco-based nonprofit Civic Ventures, which promotes the concept of "encore careers." About half of boomers in a 2005 survey expressed an interest in second careers that helped their community and provided some form of compensation, the organization said.

After retiring in 2007 from her job as a counselor at Monroe Community College, Pat Mikols developed her own unpaid encore career. She began moderating a peer-led support group at Bethany House, a Catholic Worker home for homeless women and children.

"I’m adding a greater knowledge to the skill base I had, but it’s in a different area," said Mikols, who attends St. Mary Church in Rochester. "This is not a career change. It”s just a life enhancement."

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