Retirees Who Volunteer are Happier and Healthier

Serving in the community helps seniors avoid depression and isolation. 

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- Posted on Sep 25, 2019

A group of senior volunteers

Looking for a way to serve your community after retirement, as Marilyn DeLisle Strube does? We talked to Kristin Fox, director of Senior Companions of South Dakota, whose grant is sponsored by the Good Samaritan Society, about how seniors can make a difference in others’ lives through Senior Corps programs:

What is Senior Corps? It’s a nationwide network of service programs for people 55 and older. Through its three main programs—Senior Companions, Foster Grandparents and RSVP—volunteers address needs and improve lives in their communities. Find out more at nationalservice.gov.

How do Senior Corps volunteers make a difference? Senior Companions offer friendship and help with daily tasks to older adults, allowing them to live independently. “Our Companions take clients to the grocery, doctor’s appointments, the salon,” Fox says. “Some volunteers do light housekeeping and meal prep. Others provide respite care so family caregivers can take a break. Perhaps the most important thing they offer is companionship.” Foster Grandparents work with kids in high-need schools. They do one-on-one tutoring and mentor struggling teens. RSVP volunteers serve in a variety of ways. They might help veterans find jobs or rebuild after natural disasters, for example.

How do volunteers benefit from their service? In a new study, Senior Corps volunteers reported improved health and significantly less depression and isolation after two years of service. “Our volunteers feel they get more than they give,” Fox says. “Getting up every morning with a sense of purpose is so important. They get the satisfaction of helping someone. Senior Companions and their clients quickly become friends, and we’ve had some pairings for years.” Senior Companions and Foster Grandparents who meet income eligibility guidelines receive a modest, tax-free stipend, plus reimbursement for mileage and other costs.

What makes a good volunteer? “Our Senior Companions love to talk,” Fox says. “They’re also good listeners and able to relate to people from different backgrounds. They care deeply about helping others—that’s more important than any particular skill.”

Where can seniors find other opportunities to serve? Search volunteermatch.org for options in your area. “Figure out what interests you, then call up relevant nonprofits and ask how you can help,” Fox suggests. “Check with your local volunteer center, library or community center.”

Visit good-sam.com/guideposts for more information on doing good and living well in retirement.

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