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March 14, 2003

At almost any age, amazing ways of giving abound

From: Canton Repository, OH - 14 Mar 2003

By JOE VOLZ Copley News Service

Retired people do it. Working people do it. Students do it. They volunteer in amazing ways.

Richard Dowd is aware of his many blessings. He is director of social outreach, a volunteer position at St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Dowd helps people in financial emergencies who can't pay rent or buy food. In addition, Dowd, who is retired, also regularly mans a soup kitchen mostly run by volunteers, including his wife, Terry.

For many years, Charlotte Cook has volunteered to help children with hearing loss. She learned how by helping her son David, who is deaf, navigate a mostly hearing world. Dowd and her entire family are fluent in sign language. David also reads lips.

Today, David is an 18-year-old freshman at Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina, where he is part of a small community of deaf students. "For the first time, he really fits in," Cook said, explaining that people with serious hearing loss are often left out of groups made up of people who can hear.

Dowd and Cook are each older than 50. They say that volunteering is a wonderful way to feel wanted. Like many volunteers, they feel compelled to volunteer because they want to make up for all the need and injustice they see around them.

"I feel volunteering is what I need to do now," Dowd says.

Like Dowd, many retirees say they volunteer as a way to remain active in their communities. It pulls them into a cause beyond themselves, an activity where they can make a difference to other people. Many retirees like the community spirit and social aspects of volunteering.

AARP, the advocacy organization for people 50 and older, has documented the significance of volunteering. For many, volunteering is a means to ease into retirement. Workers cut back on full-time jobs to make time for volunteer service.

AARP groups include the 25-year-old volunteer program for helping people prepare their taxes. Another example is the volunteer lawyer program run by AARP's Jan May. The award-winning program runs free clinics in the nation's capital and around the country, where volunteer lawyers assist low-income individuals with pressing legal matters.

How to volunteer

One way is to volunteer short-term with a group or project that interests you. It's a good way to discover if you and a given organization are compatible.

The essence of volunteering is that it isn't work. You don't have to volunteer. In fact, you can choose when and where to serve. After a while, if you grow tired of a particular group, you can even quit.

That is the philosophy of 93-year-old James Dumpson, a former New York welfare commissioner. He still volunteers.

"I sit on a number of boards, but when it gets too much, I quit a couple," he said.

How many opportunities for volunteering are there? Literally, the possibilities are infinite. President Bush's USA Freedom Corps campaign, developed after 9/11, seeks to enroll people across the country in the volunteer group of their choice in their own communities.

Volunteers with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts often get started because their child wants to join and no one else has stepped forward to lead. For some, the activity is so fulfilling that they continue to volunteer long after their own child is an adult.

The Red Cross runs blood drives that provide a steady source of blood for people who would die without a transfusion. The National Wildlife Society, local and national humane societies and conservationist groups all have large volunteer components to keep the world's environment healthy. There's the drive to protect the Florida Everglades, for example, and the ongoing clash between conservationists and groups that want to log in the nation's old-growth forests.

Many volunteers are unsung heroes and heroines, quietly doing their best to improve the lives of people around them. For example, there are many who tenderly nurse ill spouses or friends with little concern for their own comfort.

Finally, a personal note: I have volunteered throughout my work life and as a retiree. I worked with an Alzheimer's group run by the Quaker Church in Washington, D.C. And I mentor students and adults who want to improve their writing and people who are seeking work as reporters.

So, what's keeping you from volunteering?

Copyright ©2003 The Repository