By Caroline Revell.
It’s hardly a well-kept secret that volunteering is fun, good for you, and makes a difference to people’s lives. Older people especially reap the benefits of being a volunteer. But a large number of people have negative perceptions holding them back: that they’re too old, that they won’t be useful, that they don’t have the right experience.
It’s time to challenge those preconceived views. Here’s why mature people should give volunteering a chance!
Isn’t it expensive? Aren’t the only people who go volunteering about 18? I’m too old for a gap year … If this sounds like you, don’t let those thoughts overwhelm you! If you want to volunteer, you can overcome any hurdles.
Related: Time For Volunteering
Volunteering doesn’t have to be expensive. There are affordable volunteer-sending organisations who can help you find a project that suits your budget. Worried that flights will cost too much? Try finding a volunteer position closer to home. Plus, locally volunteering once a week can be just as fulfilling as doing 6 months in a far-flung country.
Think you’re too old for a gap year? Think again! Plenty of people take career breaks well beyond their 20s. It can be a wonderful change of pace and an opportunity to explore different interests and skills. You’ll be surprised at how many people your age you’ll meet on a project.
Reservations you have about your age and volunteering shouldn’t hold you back. In fact, there are many benefits to volunteering as you get older.
Multiple studies have concluded that volunteering is good for your health, and this becomes even more prevalent the older you are. United Health Group conducted a survey which found that older people, and those with chronic conditions, feel the benefits of volunteering to the greatest degree.
More than just a way to keep active, volunteering engages your brain too. The problem solving and social skills you’ll use keep your brain firing in new ways, which could help stave off dementia. Plus, you’ll be meeting new people, and in a time when the UK needs a loneliness minister prolonged and regular interaction can help keep depression at bay.
Deviating from your normal routine and having new experiences is exciting too. You get the “happy factor” from endorphins by doing something kind which can even help you sleep better. And volunteering improves your confidence and self-esteem through a sense of accomplishment and appreciation.
Having the excuse to travel abroad is another perk of volunteering. Maybe you’re stuck in a stressful cycle between work and home, or in a stagnant retirement routine. The excitement of travelling, the change of scenery, and the break it gives you from worrying about your own problems, all reduce stress and improve your quality of life.
Mature People Are Needed
So now you understand the benefits you’ll get from volunteering, here are the ways volunteer groups will gain from having you.
Perhaps you don’t realise it, but you have so many transferable skills just from having lived your life. Something as simple as being able to cook can be invaluable to a volunteer team, where some of the younger volunteers might only have cooked once or twice in their whole lives.
Mature volunteers are often more confident in putting forward their ideas or speaking their thoughts, simply because they’re used it. Once the ice is broken, other volunteers will feel more comfortable expressing themselves too. This sense of calmly getting on with it that seems to come with age, is useful in many volunteering situations.
Take teaching, for example. Often older volunteers are happy taking on teaching assistant or one-on-one roles, especially if they’ve had families of their own. You don’t necessarily have to know how to teach but having someone mature and calm in the room can put the children more at ease.
The maturity brought by older volunteers makes life easier for the people coordinating the volunteer projects too. In a lot of cases, older people need less supervision and can make even difficult tasks appear effortless. Don’t be surprised if you get asked to stay longer than you intended to!
What to Expect
The key to a rewarding volunteer experience at any age is managing your expectations and planning carefully. If you don’t know what to expect, get in touch with the volunteering organisations and ask them. They’ll be happy to ease your concerns and offer guidance on what their programs are like.
It varies from person to person what you’ll worry about, but some things to consider when looking into volunteering abroad could be:
•Do you want your own bedroom?
•Will there be someone there to help you settle in?
•Is there a shuttle or taxi to and from the airport?
•When will be the best time of year to go? (Hint: the summer months are when all the university students will go, so if you volunteer at off-peak times you’re more likely to meet people of a variety of ages!)
•Is food provided or will you need to cook?
•Do you need any particular experience? What will you be able to do if you have no experience teaching, building, farming?
•What can you do there in your free time?
You might have similar concerns when volunteering locally, which you can also bring up with the volunteer supervisor at the local group you’re interested in.
If you’re still worried, consider taking a shorter trip or a trial period before you commit to a longer stint. That way, if you really hate it you won’t have long until it’s over – and if you love it you’ll know exactly what you’re looking forward to next time!
You may also like Louise Coppin’s Life Of Dog Rescue In Portugal, My Year As A Cherie Blair Mentor, and Why Timor-Leste Needs Us To Take Notice.
Caroline Revell enjoys off the beaten track travel and works at Original Volunteers, a volunteer-sending organization in the UK. Caroline is a passionate believer in the transferable skills and wisdom that older people can offer all working environments.