Published in the September 2011 issue of The Fifty Plus Advocate.
Adversity has a way of bringing people together, and that’s what happened in the wake of the devastating attack on September 11, 2001. Ten years ago this month, we saw people reassessing their lives. We saw people recommitting their lives spiritually. We saw people going out of their way to help others. And, out of this horrible tragedy, came a recommitment to service.
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Today – perhaps more than ever – we as a nation need to turn to volunteers to help meet the ever-growing needs of our society. Living as we do in this era of economic turmoil, shrinking public resources, cutbacks and downsizing, volunteers are an important resource we must tap to meet the increasing demands in our communities.
Volunteers age 50 and older are one of our nation’s best-kept secrets; one of the most underutilized human resources for addressing community concerns and needs in our nation. Research repeatedly finds that older persons have a healthy work ethic, a low turnover rate, and demonstrate performance stability in volunteer activities.
In fact, mounting scientific evidence indicates volunteering can even be a key to better health and happiness. A Journals of Gerontology study shows that older persons who volunteer report higher levels of well-being – regardless of race, gender or income level – while another Vanderbilt University report illustrates that volunteer work enhances six aspects of personal welfare: happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and relief from depression.
So, are Boomers volunteering? In Massachusetts, 25.5 percent have participated in volunteer work over the past few years, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Their desire to give back is strong, or even stronger, than that of any generation. But, they want to do it their own way, and have a clear preference for flexible, customizable experiences.
That’s right: As they have done throughout their entire lives, due in part to their sheer numbers, the Boomers are bringing change – this time to the face of volunteering.
At AARP, we have a legacy of civic engagement that goes back to our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. In 1958, she started AARP to help retired teachers gain access to health insurance, to provide discounts, to serve – and to provide service to older Americans via volunteer programs that help them maintain independence, dignity, and purpose.