There were 77 million babies born in the United States during the post-war boom period between 1946 and 1964 [source: Harvard School of Public Health]. In 2011, the oldest of these baby boomers reach the age of 65, when retirement is on the horizon, if not already in full swing. But what will this remarkable and remarkably large generation do with all of its newfound free time? Across America, nonprofits and charitable organizations are hoping to witness a volunteer boom. Over the next 13 years, experts predict that the number of volunteers over age 65 could increase by a staggering 50 percent [source: Corporation for National & Community Service].
Boomers are healthier and more active compared to previous retiring generations. As a whole, they're adventurous, but not quite as civic-minded as their "greatest generation" parents [source: Harvard School of Public Health]. Service organizations have begun to tout the health and psychological benefits of volunteering -- -- to lure boomers away from world travel and part-time work and into community service. In fact, research shows that regular volunteering prolongs your life by an average of 5 years [source: Corporation for National & Community Service].
We've assembled a list of the 10 most in-demand and enjoyable volunteer opportunities for baby boomers, ranked in no particular order. We'll start off with school volunteers.
Strong schools grow in strong communities. You can help improve the quality of public education in your area by volunteering in your local elementary, middle and high schools. If you don't know where to start, search for volunteer education opportunities through Communities in Schools, a national program with 181 local affiliates in 25 states. The program coordinates the efforts of 57,000 volunteers who serve as mentors, classroom aides, reading partners, fundraisers for school supplies and more.
You can also contact your local schools directly. Many schools offer after-school programs for children whose parents work, or who need extra academic or emotional support beyond the traditional school day. These after-school programs often need volunteer tutors, sports coaches, computer lab helpers and mentors.
If you're better at evaluating business plans than teaching kids how to read, you'll love our next volunteer opportunity for baby boomers.
Baby boomers are expected to retire much later than their parents' generation. Even if boomers retire from the full-time grind at age 65, many wish to continue working part-time as consultants in their field. It's true that there's money to be made as an experienced management, financial or technical consultant. But there are also thousands of small businesses and start-ups out there that could use your help, but can't afford steep consulting fees. If you've saved up a comfortable nest egg, consider volunteering your time as a business mentor or coach.
SCORE is a non-profit organization that harnesses the experience of 13,000 retired business executives to offer free consulting services to qualifying entrepreneurs. SCORE members belong to over 300 local chapters, where they help neighborhood small business owners develop, market and manage new products and services. According to SCORE, its member businesses generated $19.4 billion in 2010 [source: SCORE].
As a SCORE volunteer, you can work directly with local business owners as a mentor, or even provide consulting services online or over the telephone. Some SCORE volunteers run training seminars or offer a series of classes on a particular aspect of entrepreneurship.
Foster Grandparent Program
One of the greatest joys of getting older is becoming a grandparent. Baby boomers are now enjoying the unique and rewarding relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild. Being a grandparent offers all of the blessings of being a parent --the opportunity to be a loving playmate, teacher and friend to a remarkable child -- without the headaches of discipline or newborn sleep schedules.
What if you could share the love and attention that you provide to your own grandkids with the wider community? The Foster Grandparents Program makes that possible. Sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Foster Grandparent Program is open to anyone 55 or older who wants to be a role model, mentor, teacher and friend to children who need extra help in school, support through medical procedures, or just someone to talk to.
Bring your life experience and compassion and the Foster Grandparents Program will train you for volunteer positions with schools, after-school mentoring programs and faith-based organizations.
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the most popular volunteering activity for all Americans between 2007 and 2009 was fundraising. Fundraising is an essential component of any charitable nonprofit organization. Baby boomers can do more than write a personal check to support the causes they believe in. They can also volunteer to participate in or help organize fundraising events that bring in supporting donations from the entire community.
Many of the larger nonprofit organizations hold national walk-a-thons in support of their cause. Individual walkers ask family, friends and neighbors to pledge a certain amount of money to show support for their participation in the event. All of the money goes directly to the organization, which may use it to build homes in Haiti, search for a cure for breast cancer or diabetes, or combat hunger.
There are other ways to volunteer as a fundraiser. You can work the phones at a call center during a telethon, set up a booth for your organization at a community event, or even spread the word about the good work of your organization through social media networks like Facebook.
Baby boomers are predicted to live far longer than their parents. The average life expectancy is now 83 years, but thanks to improving diets and exercise, many will stay active and healthy into their 90s and beyond [source: Harvard School of Public Health]. In many ways, they're changing the image and attitude of aging. If you're a boomer lucky enough to feel young and energetic, you can show your appreciation by donating time to those who aren't as fortunate.
The Senior Companions Program of the Corporation for National and Community Service matches folks who are 55 and older with elderly individuals and families in the community who can use some extra help. These are non-medical volunteer positions, so you wouldn't be acting as a home care nurse. Instead, you'd help relieve overburdened family members by spending one or two afternoons a week with an elderly person. You can cook meals, do laundry, pick up groceries or medication, and even give rides back and forth to doctor's appointments. You'll help restore someone's sense of independence, allowing him or her to stay home despite any diminished physical capabilities.
The Peace Corps was created in 1961 as a call to service for America's youth. But in recent years, the percentage of Peace Corps volunteers over the age of 50 has ballooned to 6 percent of the nearly 8,000 total volunteers worldwide [source: Gilgoff].
Many baby boomers were in college when President John F. Kennedy announced the creation of the Peace Corps. Boomers are an adventurous generation that feels a deep commitment to social justice. Many chose not to join the Peace Corps when they were younger, but never forgot the allure of the program. Mary Ann Camp was a pediatric nurse for 35 years, for instance, but always knew that she wanted to join the Peace Corps some day. At 60, she traveled to Malawi to work in AIDS education for youth [source: Peace Corps].
Peace Corps recruiters appreciate the life experience that boomers bring to the table, and so do the communities in which older volunteers work. Many of these cultures have a deep respect for older people and are more likely to listen to a grey-haired American than a wide-eyed youngster. Older Peace Corps volunteers also serve as mentors and role models for their younger colleagues in the field. It might be 50 years later, but it's never too late to answer President Kennedy's call.
Food Bank or Soup Kitchen
In 2009, over 5 million households in the United States accessed emergency food from a local food pantry [source: Feeding America]. Organizations like Feeding America provide free, healthy meals for over 37 million Americans each year, and the overwhelming majority of the people who work at community food pantries and soup kitchens are volunteers.
By volunteering at a food pantry, you ensure that poverty -- which afflicts more than 14 percent of U.S. households -- doesn't compromise the physical and mental health of children and their families [source: Feeding America]. Food pantry volunteers sort and shelve donated goods and deliver food to charitable agencies in the community. Volunteers can work directly with community members or behind the scenes as office managers and clerical workers.
Soup kitchens are a wonderful volunteer opportunity for baby boomers who are experienced home cooks and food lovers. Here's a chance to share your passion and your gifts with people who are going through hard times. Your delicious, healthy food can and will lift their spirits. If you don't know a chef's knife from a potato peeler, you can still help stock supplies in the kitchen, serve meals to patrons and clean up at night.
Habitat for Humanity
There are 95 million Americans who live in unfit or unstable housing. Worldwide, that number explodes to one billion [source: Habitat for Humanity]. For 35 years, Habitat for Humanity has used volunteer crews to build and maintain simple homes for families who need a fresh start.
Habitat for Humanity is always looking for qualified baby boomers with construction, carpentry, architecture or design experience to join its work crews across the United States. If you don't have the right work experience, you can still help out as a "gofer" on the job site.
In addition to its flagship construction program, Habitat also offers two-week international volunteer opportunities through its Global Village program. Even RV enthusiasts can get in on the act: A program called RV Care-A-Vanners allows road-roaming boomers to sign up with work crews for two-week build projects, including disaster relief.
The 2010 museum volunteer of the year was 81-year-old Thelma "Tede" Johnson of Newport News, Va. Johnson received the reward from the American Association of Museum Volunteers for her 12,000 hours of volunteer work for the Virginia Living Museum since 1988 [source: AAMV].
Museums across America rely on volunteer help to keep these nonprofit institutions running smoothly and under budget. Both large and small museums are eager to hire older volunteers with a friendly smile and a passion for the arts, sciences and history. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City employs over 1,000 volunteers; 50 percent of them work directly with the public as information desk assistants, tour guides, teachers of school groups and more [source: AMNH]. Other volunteers work behind the scenes cataloging exhibits, conducting research and helping with administrative tasks. The museum notes that the minimum age for volunteers is 16, but "there is no upper limit."
National Park Volunteer
There are over 390 national parks in the U.S. Each of them relies on teams of volunteers to serve visitors directly and help out behind the scenes [source: National Park Service]. The National Park Service calls its volunteer workers VIPs for "volunteers-in-parks." VIPs work in a wide variety of positions at national parks:
- Giving guided nature tours
- Clearing and maintaining hiking trails
- Giving historical demonstrations in costume or period dress
- Constructing and painting buildings and fences
- Teaching a skill like maple syrup production or orienteering through classes
- Serving at an information or help desk
Every national park is different, and some offer once-in-a-lifetime outdoors experiences for baby boomers. A great example is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, home to more historic lighthouses than any other national park. Lucky volunteers can spend anywhere from several weeks to a full summer living and operating one of the eight island lighthouses.
For lots more information about baby boomers and post-retirement life, take a look at the links on the next page
Does the Peace Corps want retired volunteers? Learn about the Peace Corps and how retired volunteers can serve
- 10 Best Volunteer Activities in Retirement
- 10 Tips for Finding Volunteer Vacations
- Top 5 Volunteer Organizations for Retirees
- Top 5 Volunteer Vacations for Retirees
- 10 Second Career Ideas for Retirees
- 10 Jobs for Retired Doctors
- 5 At-home Jobs for Retirees
- 5 Career Opportunities for Retired Police Officers
- The American Association of Museum Volunteers. "2010 Volunteer of the Year: Thelma 'Tede' Johnson" (Accessed May 30, 2011.)http://www.aamv.org/aamv2010.html
- American Museum of Natural History. "Volunteering at the American Museum of Natural History" (Accessed May 30, 2011.)http://www.amnh.org/join/getinvolved/volunteering/
- Corporation for National & Community Service. "The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research." 2007 (Accessed May 31, 2011.)http://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf
- Feeding America. "Hunger & Poverty Statistics" (Accessed May 29, 2011.)http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/hunger-and-poverty-statistics.aspx
- Gilgoff, Julie. Peace Corps. "Seniors doing their peace." February 26, 2005 (Accessed May 30, 2011.)http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.media.medstories.view&news_id=1019
- Habitat for Humanity. "Volunteer Opportunities -- United States" (Accessed May 30, 2011.)http://www.habitat.org/us_volunteer_program/default.aspx
- Harvard School of Public Health - Met Life Foundation Initiative on Retirement and Civic Engagement. "Reinventing Aging: Baby Boomers and Civic Engagement." 2004http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/chc/reinventingaging/Report.pdf
- National Park Service. "Volunteers-in-Parks" (Accessed May 29, 2011.)http://www.nps.gov/getinvolved/upload/vip_brochure.pdf
- Peace Corps. "Who Volunteers?" (Accessed May 30, 2011.)http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=learn.whovol
- SCORE. "Become a SCORE Volunteer and Make Dreams Come True" (Accessed May 30, 2011.)http://www.score.org/volunteer