"Some retirees just want to travel and relax and that's fine. But, at the age of 56, when we started doing this, I still wanted to do something," says Jay Rush, now 64. "I can't sit around. I don't play a lot of golf. So, this is my hobby, building houses for people."
The Rushes sign up for two-week volunteer stints at sites across the country and build and renovate homes, creating safe, affordable living spaces for low-income families. They've swung hammers and rolled paint in 20 states plus Canada and New Zealand. In between builds, they travel to see family and friends, including two sons who live in Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
"There's a lot of camaraderie among those of us who do this," says Joyce Rush. "So, we not only enjoy the communities we work in, but we enjoy the fellowship we have with each other."
Evelyn Faldowski, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
When her husband died suddenly five years ago, a good friend who ran the Lay Mission Volunteer Program with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth encouraged her to take a volunteer trip to Belize.
"The only other country I'd ever been to was Canada, and that was on our honeymoon," says Faldowski, now 70. "But when my husband died, it was as if this new path had opened up in my life."
Faldowski signed up for a 10-day trip to Belize in Central America. There she helped build small 16-by-16-foot homes that would provide protection from the elements and a level of safety that some people there, many of them single mothers, did not then have. "On my first visit, I knew I would go back," says Faldowski of Rayland, Ohio. "It's not a vacation. It's something I'm doing from the heart that makes me feel good, but I get so much more than I give."
Faldowski did return the following year, that time adding three weeks to her stay so she could work at a pediatric AIDS clinic run by the Sisters of Charity. In March she headed to Botswana, Africa, for 20 days to help paint a schoolhouse, work on social justice programs to help empower and educate local women, and work in a pediatric AIDS clinic.
"You can't help everybody," says Faldowski, a retired nurse. "But if you help one person, you are doing something."
Sue and Stefan Laxdal, Global Volunteers
As a grandparent, you get excited by your grandchild's first steps; his first school play. But for Sue and Stefan Laxdal, an equally exciting milestone is when their grandchildren are old enough to join them on a Global Volunteers mission.
"It's a chance for us to spend quality time with our grandchildren and to give them the gift of a broader experience of the world," says Sue Laxdal, 68, of Medicine Lake, Minn. "They come back about a foot taller from these trips."
For the Laxdal's grandchildren, that magic age is around 15 or 16, and they pick the location. All four grandchildren (out of a total of six) who have gone so far have picked conversational English programs in Europe, where volunteers spend two weeks working with students on their pronunciation and grammar. "In Europe, English is the language of business and commerce," Sue Laxdal says. "By learning English, they have all of Europe available to them as they grow into adulthood. So it's really important."