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Looking for a few good boomers to help others

Retiring baby boomers are proving to be valuable volunteers. 'A part of paying for our spot on earth is to help those who need help,' says one.

By Jennifer C. KerrAssociated Press / April 26, 2012

Mike Carr assists a client at Community Action of Northeast Indiana, in Fort Wayne, Ind. Local charities and nonprofits are looking for baby boomers to roll up their sleeves to help local schools, soup kitchens, and people in need. Carr, who retired about a year ago, volunteers with low-income people and military families.

Darron Cummings/AP

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Local charities and nonprofits are looking for a few good baby boomers – well, lots of them, actually – to roll up their sleeves to help local schools, soup kitchens, and others in need.

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Boomers are attractive volunteers, and it's not just the sheer strength of their numbers – 77 million. They are living longer. They are more educated than previous generations. And, especially appealing: They bring well-honed skills and years of real-world work and life experience.

"This generation, this cohort of Americans, is the healthiest, best-educated generation of Americans across this traditional age of retirement," says Dr. Erwin Tan, who heads the Senior Corps program at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency in Washington. "The question for us is how can we as a country not afford to mobilize this huge source of human capital to meet the vital needs of our communities."

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Dr. Tan says nonprofits are retooling to attract more boomers by offering a variety of skills-based opportunities as well as more flexibility, such as nontraditional hours or projects that don't require a trip to the office and can be completed at home.

Mike Carr of Fort Wayne, Ind., is exactly the kind of skillful boomer sought by communities.

Mr. Carr retired about a year ago as an accountant for Verizon Communications. Instead of golfing or parking himself on the couch, he volunteers with low-income people and military families, helping them prepare and file their tax returns.

Carr also volunteers as treasurer for a church group and helps people with paperwork for food stamps and unemployment.

"There's so much in the news today that's very negative, and a lot of it I can't do a whole lot about," Carr says. "But at least here in the community that I live in, there are some things that I can do to help others."

About a third of boomers, ages 48 to 66 years, tend to gravitate toward opportunities with a religious underpinning, according to CNCS figures. That was followed by volunteer opportunities in education, 22 percent; social service, 14 percent; and hospitals, 8 percent.

The percentage of boomers volunteering these days, however, is on the decline.

Nearly 22 million baby boomers gave their time in communities across the country in 2010. That's about 28.8 percent of boomers, down slightly from 29.9 percent in 2007 and from 33.5 percent in 2003, according to the community service corporation.

"What I think we're seeing is baby boomers coming out of the period of peak volunteering," says Nathan Dietz, former associate director of research at CNCS and now a senior program manager with the Partnership for Public Service. "They are getting older, and people as they get older volunteer a little less often."

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