Research has shown that older Americans who volunteer frequently live longer and report less disability.
According to data from the Corporation for National and Community Service, 18.7 million older adults – more than a quarter of those 55 and older – contributed on average more than three billion hours of service in their communities per year between 2008 and 2010.
Older volunteers meet a wide range of community needs – helping seniors live independently in their homes, tutoring and mentoring at-risk youth, providing financial education and job training to veterans and their families, and helping communities recover from disasters.
Research points to several implications for policymakers, government agencies, health officials, and nonprofit and community organizations that utilize older volunteers.
? Given the positive health benefits associated with volunteering, efforts should be made to engage populations that could benefit the most from volunteering or are underrepresented among current volunteers, including low-income individuals and people with disabilities. Programs such as Senior Corps that offer small stipends or reimbursements for transportation or other costs associated with volunteering make it possible for large numbers of older volunteers to serve their community.
? Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose, and future outreach should include older adults undergoing transitions such as unemployment, retirement, or the loss of a spouse.
? For those living in rural areas, volunteering can provide an important way to stay connected and active. Programs for older Americans should include volunteer opportunities in rural areas and consider ways to lower the barriers to volunteering, such as stipends that can reimburse the cost of transportation.
? As the leading edge of the Baby Boomer generation approaches retirement age, nonprofits and community organizations need to be ready to recruit and retain boomer volunteers. Adoption of key practices, such as matching volunteers with appropriate and challenging assignments, providing professional development opportunities for volunteers, and treating volunteers as valued partners, can help build organizational capacity to recruit and retain boomer volunteers.
? While marketing and recruitment efforts directed to older volunteers should reference the potential health benefits of volunteering, researchers should consider designing health interventions based on volunteering.
? National days of service, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance, can be an effective way to introduce new volunteers in service activities that can turn into a long-term commitment.
[Reprinted by permission on 4/7/2015 from an article by the Corporation for National & Community Service, “The Health Benefits of Volunteering for Older Americans.”]