Darron Cummings/AP
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.

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.

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.

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."

RELATED: How retirement is being reinvented worldwide

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."

Peak age for volunteering tends to be in the mid-30s and 40s, Mr. Dietz says, when married couples and those with children are more likely to be exposed to situations in which people need volunteers – say, coaching for a child's soccer team or giving time to local scouts or schoolchildren as a mentor or group leader.

Many boomers are also delaying retirement and working into their golden years because their nest eggs have taken a hit in the last few years, giving them less time to volunteer.

An August 2011 Associated Press-National Constitution Center Poll found that 65 percent of baby boomers had done some type of volunteer activities through or for an organization over the past year. That is significantly less than adults younger than boomers. The top reasons baby boomers did not volunteer in the past year were not having the time, 69 percent, and health issues or physical limitations, 19 percent.

For boomer Kathy Herrala in Negaunee, Mich., volunteer service started when her now-grown children were young, in Girl Scouts and the school orchestra, and continues into retirement.

"We all have to give back," says Ms. Herrala, who retired four years ago from her longtime job recruiting volunteers for Marquette County. "A part of paying for our spot on Earth is to help those who need help." 

Herrala is volunteering as part of an American Red Cross team dispatched to disasters. She also now has time to turn to a great passion of hers: health care.

Herrala says she's seen too many people in desperate need of health care, so she began volunteering with a program called the Medical Care Access Coalition. It provides medical care to low-income people without insurance.

One experience Herrala says she'll never forget was the day a woman without dental care came to her with dentures that didn't fit properly. Every time the woman needed to talk, she had to take out her teeth so she could speak. Herrala tried to help her find a dentist.

"It gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing you can do something to help someone else," Herrala says.

• Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

• Sign up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Looking for a few good boomers to help others
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today