Retiree volunteers reap most benefits

Myrtle Tipton looks relaxed and happy as she talks about her recent retirement. After a 36-year career with Verizon in the IT field, Myrtle retired in September 2012 at the age of 57. Less than a month later she took another job, only this time it was voluntary.

Devoting an average of 12 hours a week at Lewisville based Christian Community Action, she assists clients who seek medical assistance in CCA’s Adult Health Center. There she screens candidates and provides additional help including sharing her technical expertise when issues arise.

“It’s very rewarding to me when I screen a candidate or Angel as we call them, and they are approved. The gratitude that they express when that’s done, you know, it gives you a warm feeling inside. Insurance, it’s something you take for granted,” said Tipton.

Clients include the newly displaced middle class who may have fallen victim to hard times.

“I see people come through that could have been in a similar position that I was in prior to retirement and they’ve lost a job and then there are no benefits,” she said.

Tipton’s experience as a volunteer mirrors what numerous studies suggest. Retirees who volunteer typically experience the greatest rewards. Studies indicate those rewards translate to better physical and mental health, lower rates of mortality, social support and a sense of purpose.

For Flower Mound resident Ed Andrews, volunteering is an extension of his service to his church. Ed describes himself as motivating the congregation at Flower Mound United Methodist church to contribute to food drives three times a year which benefit CCA’s initiatives.

“It boils down to where there is a sincere need,” says Ed. “You feel like you are here for a purpose. I’m not sure how long, he jokes, but the idea is to make a contribution.”

A review of recent research on the health benefits of volunteering  published by the  Corporation for National & Community Service suggest the health benefits are higher for retirees than older volunteers who are still employed. This may be due to the fact that having a volunteer position provides the same types of routines and social connectedness that a regular job does. Research outlined in the report also point to correlations between volunteering and higher self-esteem and a sense of purpose.

Sociologist Phyllis Moen, Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota and McKnight Presidential Chair in Sociology says a key factor as to why people derive satisfaction from volunteering is the fact that it is usually a choice.

“The idea is that you are doing something you want to be doing. Volunteering is usually by definition that. You are not coerced into doing it. I think that people benefit from engagement in public roles whether it’s paid or unpaid work but it has to be something that they want to be doing,” said Moen.

It’s the sense of personal autonomy, says Moen that contributes to the positive feeling people associate with volunteering in general.

Dan Leal, Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County says retiree volunteers bring something special to the table. He points to volunteer Louise Morrish who greets children and families who come into the center under painful circumstances.  The CACDC provides therapy and other support services to children who are the victims of sexual abuse.

“While Louise doesn’t look like a senior to me a lot of people do feel very comfortable seeing a senior when they walk in. So when you come in the door and you see a smile on a face that you can relate to being your mom or your grandmother, to me that’s good,” said Leal.

He says seniors not only bring life experience to the table but also a cooler head.

“With children and families that have gone through sexual abuse you don’t want a volunteer that is excitable because we are dealing with crisis here. Louise has a very calming ability with people and she makes good decisions,” he said.

Looking at Louise Morrish it is easy to see that she brings positive energy to her job. At 75 she looks much younger. She says she had a calling to volunteer at CACDC.

“When I walked into that building I knew I had to volunteer,” she says. “I don’t think I could have done it if I knew that these children were going back into the same situation. I would have wanted to take them home with me to keep them safe. But I knew in this case they were being taken out of that situation or the person abusing was removed.”

According to the US Census Bureau, the population for the age group 65 and older rose 15.1 percent between 2000 and 2010. This compares to a 9.7 percent increase for the general population. As this figure continues to rise the need for services for older adults will also rise. Volunteers are expected to play an even greater role in meeting the needs of an aging population. For many retirees volunteer services may be something they themselves come to depend on at some point in time.

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