Boomers Use Retirement Years to Volunteer

The Boomer is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their golden years. It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to

Earlier this month, comedian Jerry Lewis announced that he is retiring as the long-time emcee of the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day Telethon. My first thought was, it's the end of an era!

Since 1966, the Newark, N.J., native has been raising money to fund research for muscular dystrophy and ALS.

Youll never walk alone he wrote in a statement on the MDA Web site on his retirement. Ill continue to serve MDA as its National Chairman as Ive done since the early 1950s. Ill never desert MDA and my kids.

Click here to read: For Many Boomers, Volunteering Stays Close to Home

As long as I can remember, every Labor Day weekend, the last weekend of the summer, I was torn between going to the beach and sitting in front of the TV to watch the telethon. Lewis's first live telethonwhich lasted 21.5 hours--was broadcast by a single New York City TV station and raised more than $1 million in pledges. Last year, the fundraiser raked in almost $59 million.

Lewis, 85, will make his final appearance during the six-hour primetime telethon on Sept. 4. It is people like Jerry Lewis who gave boomers such a great example of what can be achieved by giving a little time and effort to help those less fortunate. According to the MDA, Lewis has logged more than 900 hours helping the organization.

Baby boomers are continuing their trail-blazing ways by becoming active volunteers after leaving the workforce.

"Americas 77 million baby boomers are a resource of extraordinary proportions--the largest, healthiest, best-educated generation in history, Dr. Erwin Tan, director of Senior Corps and strategic advisor for Veterans and Military Families wrote in e-mail.

For the past decade, the Corporation for National and Community Service has been working to capitalize on baby boomers in the volunteer world.

Volunteering gives boomers and other older individuals a chance to make an impact on their communities by using the skills they gained during their professional lives. One group aiming to do this is Senior Corps, which connects more than 450,000 55-plus people to community service, including more than 65,000 baby boomers.

The Health Benefits of Volunteering, a 2007 research report by the Corporation for National and Community Service, found positive effects on older volunteers physical and mental health including lower rates of depression and disease.

In his speech highlighting this month as Older Americans Month, President Obama highlighted the "millions of our Nation's seniors are making a significant difference in society, strengthening our communities through their service."

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed by Congress in 2009, made several changes to expand service opportunities for baby boomers. One of those changes lowered the minimum age for senior companions and foster grandparents to 55 from 60.

Technology is also making it easier than ever for boomers to find volunteer opportunities. is a Web site specifically geared toward boomers and allows them to search for volunteer opportunities in their area by entering their zip code

Barbara Quaintance, senior vice president, volunteer and civic engagement at AARP, shares how baby boomers can get more involved in their communities and find volunteer opportunities that best suit them:

Boomer: Do you see a difference between baby boomer volunteers and previous generations?

Quaintance: Baby boomers like to see an impact of their work; its not enough to say they want to just do something, they want to know the impact and see the results.

Another big trend in volunteering in this age group is what is called skills-based volunteering or pro-bono volunteering. Let's say I am a CPA and when I retire I might volunteer with AARP's tax aid program because I have accounting skills that can help others.

Boomer: What is your feedback as to what boomers get out of volunteering?

Quaintance: Impact is the main thing: People want to make a difference and feel like what they did was important. Boomers also want to stay healthy, active and connected to other people, particularly when they leave their jobs or their kids have all moved out--it gives them a feeling that they are still helping other people.

Boomer: Do most people select one organization to work for or do they sign up for a number of them?

Quaintance: Its a little of both. One of our surveys shows 69% of people say they volunteer with one organization. But we also know right next to that is the trend for people wanting to volunteer more on their own--that has gone up to 57% from 34% back in 2003 of people saying they organize their time themselves or that they just do it once in awhile. It is not just the commitment; it is a little more of their desire to be self directed.

Boomer: Is there ever a financial incentive for volunteering and are there any tax breaks for seniors?

Quaintance: This is another thing that varies. If you were to go out to Missouri with the Red Cross to help floods victims, there is a good chance the Red Cross would pay your expenses if you were on their roster as a volunteer and had been trained.

Some programs do pay very minimal expenses. Volunteer organizations don't want money to preclude anybody from participating and nobody does volunteer work to get rich. We don't want to think that because somebody can't afford the bus money or the gas money or to buy lunch in the middle of the day that you lose them as a volunteer. A lot of organizations will pay a little bit of that sort of walking around money, we call it T&S (travel and subsistence), that can help fray expenses. Some people take it gladly and others politely decline. People are using volunteerism these days to stay connected. Weve also found people who have been laid off are turning to volunteer work to stay productive.

E-mail your questions to