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ANYONE WANT TO LEND A HAND?Retiring boomers are breathing new life into service organizations
William P. Hall tried to retire not once, but twice. After a career at the consulting firm A.T. Kearney Inc., he retired at age 57 in 1980. But a life of leisure proved unfulfilling, and Hall quickly returned to work as a marketing executive at investment firm Duff & Phelps. When it came time to retire again, Hall decided to look for something more satisfying than fishing and golf. So he went to the Executive Service Corps of Chicago, where he draws on his skills to devise strategic and marketing plans for not-for-profit agencies, including one that finds work for the mentally disabled. ''The Executive Service Corps filled a void in my life,'' Hall says.
HUNGRY FOR A CHALLENGE. These days, retirees are breathing new life into the world of volunteerism. Today's retirees are leaving their careers healthier and more active than the generations before, and they're finding a host of volunteer opportunities--from serving as ersatz drill sergeants in boot-camp-style schools for troubled teenagers to staffing clinics for indigent patients. By demanding assignments that will challenge them just as their careers did, they are changing the nature of volunteerism. ''These people are looking for more meaningful activities, but the systems they may want [to serve] are not yet strong enough,'' says Laura B. Wilson, director of the Center on Aging at the University of Maryland.
So to find a good fit, would-be volunteers should consider a nonprofit commitment with the same critical eye used to assess job offers. The opportunity should have a clear job description with time commitments and scheduling flexibility. The organization should offer an orientation at which volunteers learn the nonprofit's history as well as performance expectations. A volunteer coordinator should be available to answer questions, set schedules, and communicate with clients and volunteers.
For many, it's also important that the work provide companionship, either with other volunteers or with clients. And though it may sound like a trifle, perks such as award banquets and outings make the work more fulfilling.
Government and national service agencies can be good clearinghouses for information. Organizations operating under the umbrella of government-run National Senior Service Corps include the Foster Grandparents program, the Senior Companion program, and the variety of opportunities available under the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. An online clearinghouse for information is the Volunteer Web (www.epicbc.com/volunteer/index.html).
Some of the most exciting prospects have come out of proj-ects created by retirees to meet community needs. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently funded Reach Out, a system of 39 clinics staffed partly by retired doctors and serving uninsured patients. The idea was spawned by the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic on Hilton Head Island, S.C., formed in 1992 by Jack McConnell, a retired pediatrician. Christmas in April, a national program in which retirees do minor repairs on homes of poor and elderly people one day in April, began as the brainchild of a retired Baltimore doctor. After seeing the National Guard's Project Challenge camps for troubled teens, Janet Stoeppelmann, a former RSVP volunteer, set up a similar boot-camp-style school staffed mostly by retired military people and defense workers.
Perhaps the nation's best-known volunteer, former President Jimmy Carter, has helped negotiate political conflicts in Korea and monitored elections in Haiti and other places. But what stands out most for him is his volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity: 30 people descend on a site for a week and, standing side by side with owners-to-be, build homes from the ground up. ''Volunteer work takes us out of our self-enclosed, protected environment,'' Carter says. ''My biggest reward has come from breaking down the barriers between rich people like me and poor people whom we otherwise never would have met.'' For Carter and thousands of fellow volunteers, it's one of the rich rewards of life after work.
By David Greising in Atlanta
Updated July 9, 1998 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1998, Bloomberg L.P.