Op/Ed: Volunteering a critical regional service

We live in the digital Information age, but sometimes the click of a mouse cannot replace the value of being able to speak to a knowledgeable and compassionate person. We are fortunate that companies such as Vanguard and legislators such as Duane Milne, R-167, and John Lawrence, R-13, organize retirement and health fairs for their employees and constituents.

At a recent pre-retirement expo, RSVP representatives tout the benefits of volunteering.

At a recent pre-retirement expo, RSVP representatives tout the benefits of volunteering.

Fairs provide an excellent opportunity to learn about the broad range of health and other services that are available to us at all stages of our lives.

Vanguard recently invited local health-care providers to have tables and staff available at pre-retirement expos at their Malvern and Wayne office complexes. Emphasis was on those who are anticipating retirement in the not-too-distant future.

Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a federal Senior Corps program of the Corporation for National & Community Service that was sponsored locally by Family Service of Chester County, was invited to have a table – and the chance to interact with many people about volunteering.

RSVP’s director, Leslie Stauffer, links people 55 and over with volunteer opportunities in line with the individual’s interest, experience and time availability. Around 300 volunteers are currently serving more than 50 nonprofits in Chester County, providing more than 35,000 hours of service at an approximate value to the local community of $788,000, as estimated by www.independentsector.org.

We know that keeping active is important at all stages of life and has been shown to improve our overall health. Volunteering can improve our sense of well-being and provides the opportunity to serve our local community.

Volunteers play a critical role in many of our local nonprofits from Longwood Gardens and Chester County Hospital to the wide range of smaller service organizations, such as our food cupboards and mentoring programs. While all ages participate in some form of volunteering activities, older citizens have more available time and so play a vital role in maintaining the critical functions of hundreds of large and small nonprofits.

As an RSVP Advisory Council member, I have attended many of these fairs and enjoy talking about the huge need there is for volunteers to utilize their time, interest and experience to help the more than 50 nonprofits that we serve.

The biggest surprise to the Baby Boomers who took a quiz we conducted at the two recent Vanguard fairs was that 95 percent were unaware that Boomers are not in better health than their parents at the same age, mainly due to more chronic illnesses.

Of the 40 quiz-takers, 87.5 percent knew that Boomers are not winding down as they age and that seniors fully utilize the internet (92.5 percent). The same percentage correctly answered false for the statement “most Boomers are wealthy.” They also recognized that Baby Boomers would make up around 50 percent of our population and that fewer than half volunteer more than 100 hours per year.

We are indeed concerned that Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are not volunteering more than 100 hours a year. Will they be able to increase their volunteering activities so that they can take over from the older generation when they do reach retirement? Boomers have not been downsizing; only 6 percent plan to live in smaller homes in the next five years. Their health appears to be less robust and many Boomers will be entering retirement with minimal savings – 25 percent have no savings at all.

There is no indication that there will be any less demand for volunteers over the coming years than in the past. These are disturbing trends that those entering retirement may have less free time at their disposal due to working part time, looking after grandchildren, and dealing with health concerns.

We hope that Boomers will indeed find that they do have sufficient time and energy to volunteer when they retire. I can certainly certify that there is no more rewarding and satisfying way of using my time, energy and experience.

Duncan Allison, Advisory Council member of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)


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