SECOND ACT CAREERS AFTER 50 DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO BE PAYING ONES.
Creative volunteerism is a wonderful way to not only be connected to your community but also to stay actively involved in the well-being of others. As Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.”
Becoming sedentary after you retire can lead to isolation and even poor physical health at times. Why not offer yourself for a few hours a week somewhere like the local homeless shelter? Nowadays, with a schizophrenic economy, there is no shortage of need out there. And the benefits of volunteering are myriad.
But where do you begin? You may not think you have anything specific to offer. Not the case at all. By simply showing up and being present for someone or for a group of people, you can be very healing to them. And what you may find is that this will heal and brighten you in some way as well.
Two volunteering couples from First United Methodist Church in Greenwich, Connecticut, took some time to sit down and talk with Act Two about their experiences and how helping others has become an ongoing part of their lives, offering some tips on how you may start to be a volunteer yourself.
Volunteering: Where to Start?
Sam Deibler of Cos Cob started volunteering when he was a kid in a church with a youth group doing cleanup jobs for older members who were unable to keep up their houses. “The most memorable,” he told Act Two, “was for a woman who lived on a farm and needed to have her outhouse moved over a new hole. That was the day I smoked my first cigar—to mask the smell of the old outhouse hole. Didn’t work.”
He doesn’t do outhouses anymore but is something of a super-volunteer involved in numerous aspects of the community, one of which is as a counselor for the Commission on Aging’s Medicare Counseling program. “We’re busy now working with clients during the Medicare Part D open enrollment for 2015. I am President of the Board of Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging that distributes federal and state money for senior services.”
In addition to presiding at board meetings, Deibler also visits grantee agencies and works with staff on program development for underserved areas. “I’m President of the Board of Greenwich Chaplaincy Services that provides chaplains to seven senior facilities in town: three nursing homes, three adult residences and one adult day center.” His role involves program oversight, fundraising and relationships with local congregations. He’s also a member of the Board of Hill House senior residence and became involved here because they are building a 24- unit addition onto their 37-unit facility. “I had experience with senior housing construction in the 1980s and 90s,” he added, “when I was on the Danbury Housing Authority Board. You’ll notice that with the exception of Medicare counseling, the rest of what I do is non-profit board related. I have a lot of experience with this and feel that is where I can give my greatest contribution.”
Deibler likes to work with the groups that non-profit boards represent. “They typically attract people who are community minded, creative and committed to a cause or service, and I like being around these kinds of people. When we complete projects or perform services, there is satisfaction in seeing that people’s needs are met and that is a real motivator.”
For young people starting out in deciding about careers, he advises them to follow their passion. “If you have skills that you’ve developed in your life, find a new way to use them. Non-profit agencies present lots of opportunities, either at the level of direct service or at the level of board governance. Non-profits have taken over many of the functions government entities used to perform in the areas of community development and social services (affordable housing development is one prime example), so there are ways to be involved that provide significant service to people and their communities.”
The Benefits of Volunteering
The lady whose outhouse he once moved during his first volunteer job was in her mid-80s, tough as nails and not at all unhappy about not having indoor plumbing. But she was sorry that she couldn’t dig the new hole and move the “privy” herself. She and her late husband had dug the old hole. After he was finished helping her that day, she brought him lemonade and they drank it on the front step. “I was oblivious to the mingled smells of sweat, cheap cigar and outhouse,” he said with nostalgia. “That was about as happy an hour as I remember in my young life.”
Sam’s not the only one in the family, though, to bring volunteering to a higher place. Ann Deibler, half of the remarkable Deibler volunteer couple, says her mother helped with a variety of organizations, such as their church, local schools and her retirement community. “So I suppose it seemed like the normal thing to do with my spare time—giving and helping.” Ann is involved with many committees in her church including the Board of Trustees. After her first disaster recovery mission trip she became hooked, participating in these or organizing them annually.
“As chair of the Mission Committee for the past few years,” she said, “I’ve overseen a variety of local mission work like collecting Christmas gifts for a children’s shelter, growing organic food for our local food bank, participating in blood drives, working with Habitat for Humanity and many others. I’ve always enjoyed giving to and doing for others especially when I’m able to meet the people being helped. Hearing the stories of what has been endured or lost adds to my understanding and appreciation of all people and gratitude for what I have.”
She advocates finding volunteer work you think you will enjoy and/or uses your talents and skills well. This benefits everyone. Also, she says to be careful with how much time you commit to initially. “It’s better to start doing less than you think you can or want to do to make sure you can complete your commitment.”
Since her church is Methodist, it was asked to help finish building a Methodist church Sunday school room in Costa Rica. “Getting to know the kids and their parents, playing with the children and then preparing and running a Bible story class for them in their language (as best we could) was priceless.” In addition, they did three Katrina disaster recovery trips to Mississippi, demolishing ruined homes and working on new or damaged homes. “We bonded with the homeowners who shared their storm experiences and general life stories as well as their wonderful southern cooking.”
Volunteering: To Give is to Receive
Musician and teacher Bruce Kimball has worked in the private school system for more than 30 years in Greenwich. “They have always had a keen interest in servicing the community, meeting needs,” he noted. “Also, my church, is very involved in service ministry. My wife is more involved in this than I, but she goes with a church group each year to a place where people need help and are given what they need.”
As for Kimball himself, he plays music for school children and for those in the hospital. “Everyone needs to help others. By doing so, you as an individual will feel fulfilled.” His best memory was playing chamber music for children who were being treated for cancer on the seventh floor of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NYC. “All of the kids who listened were hooked up to chemo feeds and other life-support devices. They listened and I knew that as they were listening, they—for that short period of time—had forgotten that they were battling a life-threatening disease.”
Keeping the volunteer ethos in the family like the Deiblers, Terry Kimball, Bruce’s wife, started really getting into volunteering when she began attending First United Methodist Church, where, along with Ann Deibler, its Mission Committee helps all over the world. She has done fundraisers for various organizations and Mission rebuilding with Katrina and several other flooded areas in Iowa and upstate New York. “I have also volunteered for events that are close to my heart—Childhood Cancer awareness and Hope & Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund.
There is nothing better than helping another person who is down on their luck or who has lost everything due to a disaster. On the Mission trips you work side-byside with those who have been devastated by nature, and seeing how appreciative they are for all you are doing is priceless. I usually end up getting more from interacting with the people than the actual work.”
As another super-volunteer she advocates giving back to others because you never know when you might be in their shoes. Everyone needs compassion and understanding at some point in his or her life. Pay it forward!
“The time I went to Biloxi,” she went on to say, “I was working on a home where it and one other home were the only ones standing for blocks and blocks (all the way to the water). The homeowner came and told us her story of what happened when Katrina hit and how she got out by the roof of her home. She laughed with us, cried with us, made us feel special and couldn’t thank us enough for painting her house. She made all the hard work worth every minute spent there.”
The essence of being a volunteer is to give without expecting anything in return. Ironically, though, volunteers, while never doing this for payment, often find themselves repaid with these acts of the soul. Connecticut District Superintendent in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Ken Kieffer, has done and seen a lot of volunteering in his day, but also notes, “Of the dozen or so mission trips I’ve been on, the most fruitful and life-changing ones have not been those during which the work team fixed the most fences or repaired the most roofs or poured the most concrete floors. Rather, the greatest and most profound personal and spiritual growth occurred on those trips when the recipients of our time and effort were not as grateful and appreciative as we might have hoped. The end result being, instead of learning how to hang Sheetrock or mix cement, we learned how to give and love unconditionally. Can there be a greater life-lesson to learn than that?”
Class act twos here, all of them.
By Mark Damon Puckett