Baby boomers–who represent one in four Americans–volunteer at higher rates than any other age group, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Volunteer service gives boomers a way to derive new meaning from their lives, especially as they begin moving out of the workforce. But the challenge for boomers is to identify opportunities compatible with their skills, expectations, and high educational levels, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service research report, “Keeping Baby Boomers Volunteering.”
For Jewish boomers, a specific challenge is to find meaningful volunteer work informed by Jewish values within the context of a Jewish community–and a comfortable way for less-affiliated Jews to connect to Jewish community.
Jewish boomers who want to take hands-on action under Jewish community auspices can choose from multiple entry points, with differing levels of intensity and commitment. Options include teaching, relief assistance in disaster-stricken areas, poverty work, as well as programs for professionals with specialized skills.
When my husband retired, we began our service journey by teaching English to culturally disadvantaged middle- and high-school students in Israel. Since then, we have participated in a variety of hands-on work in the U.S. and abroad, learning and growing from each experience, while striving to make a difference.
These opportunities have been tremendously rewarding. They have also helped me gain some valuable insights on how to get the most out of the volunteer experience.
Critical Success Factors
Don’t just run blindly into any single volunteer program. Successful service requires significant advance preparation and an understanding of critical success factors. Here are some tips.
1. Define your goals. Baby boomers–particularly retirees–should seriously consider their reasons for investing leisure time in unpaid and even difficult volunteer service. Is your primary goal to visit new places, with volunteering just an add-on? Or do you aspire to fulfill a lifelong dream of contributing in a meaningful way to society? If you’re honest with yourself about your goals, you will make a better choice about what to do.