For Many Boomers, Volunteering Stays Close to Home

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

When it comes to retirement, what do lawyers, accountants and IT technicians have in common?

After spending years in the workforce honing a specific craft or area of expertise, many retired baby boomers are looking to continue to use their skills as a volunteer. Many retired boomers are giving back to their local communities--something I see all the time in my neighborhood.

Click here to read: Boomers Use Retirement Years to Volunteer

Mary Malagiere, manager of volunteers for the Community Outreach Coordinator at Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey, shared with me how a local chapter serves the people of their community.

Boomer: What is the Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey and when and how did it start?

Malagiere: We are a non-profit, interstate organization that started in 1993. There were a number of congregations that were providing services for seniors independently and they decided to team up and work collaboratively to share resources to provide better help. We now have 62 congregations of varying faiths that are in a coalition reaching out to seniors.

We receive many of our volunteers through congregations because that is a good measure of how to reach the people that need help. We have expanded so much over the years; our support base is multifaceted and includes member from the business community and service organizations. We really depend on volunteers to give us a hand to reach out to seniors. We serve the frail, elderly and homebound in Ocean County, NJ. It is a wonderful opportunity for people to give back.

Boomer: Is there a difference between a national volunteer group and a local chapter volunteer group?

Malagiere: A national group is something like AARP, which is a wonderful organization with local and state offices; it also has national recognition and a long staying power. We keep it very local: neighbors helping neighbors. Our volunteer caregivers know that their efforts are going to help their neighbors. We are funded primarily through Ocean County, (Office of Senior Services). All of our services are free, and we do local fund raising and donors know that we are directly supporting the people that live here in Ocean County.

Boomer: What is the organizations WisdomWorks Program?

Malagiere: WisdomWorks is a tag created by the National Council on Aging; it has a new way of looking at utilizing volunteers and looking at people who wish to support the organization.

It capitalizes on volunteers experience to help us work better and provide better services. Everyone has life experiences and many want to use their skills in a different way than they are used to. We also have more traditional volunteering including services like medical transportation, food shopping and visiting which is the core of what we do.

WisdomWorks empowers volunteers to use their skills to change our agency and make it stronger. We have people that were in the work place as IT professionals, marketing professionals, public speakers and bankers and we ask them to reshape for us the way we recruit volunteers to serve us better. Other WisdomWorks groups have been people that looked at the way we provide our orientation and follow-up education to ensure we maintain volunteers. Another group tweaked our Web site to make it more appealing and help us use social media more effectively.

Boomer: What skills do baby boomers have that you weren't tapping into until recently?

Malagiere: People with skills in areas like marketing, IT, public speaking, public relations or even just basic office experience can help us strengthen different areas of the organization. Everyone has some experience to share and that is how we are employing our volunteers: to use their life-learned skills to volunteer in a whole new way.

Boomer: Can you give me a profile of a baby boomer volunteer?

Malagiere: Baby boomers have really become our target volunteers recently. I am a baby boomer myself and I recently retired from a successful, full-time career as a librarian. After cleaning out my garage and all the closets, I knew I wanted to do something more with my newfound time,  but wasn't sure exactly what.

I began volunteering at caregiver volunteers--I took care of my mom who was 89 so I didn't want something full time. I realized that I wanted to give back, but I needed something that was flexible. Baby boomers want to contribute, they want to have options open to them and not to be tied down to the everyday grind because they just left that behind.

With caregiver volunteers I could work as little as five minutes a week or five hours a week; whatever time you want to offers. I was interested in working with the more-frail elderly, those people that were homebound and feel socially isolated. With care giving, volunteers can make it fit their schedule. There is no restriction on the amount of time you give and there is something that everyone can do. We have a core of more than 1,200 volunteers that serve 2,400-plus seniors every month.

Boomer: With the price of gasoline today, is there any sort of reimbursement to volunteers if they are driving seniors to and from doctor appointments?

Malagiere: We do not provide any sort of compensation. With that said, we do provide supplemental auto insurance for our volunteers, which is a big issue for many people.

There is state legislation that would prohibit insurance companies from raising rates for people that are using their vehicles to volunteer. It is very hard to get people to volunteer if they fear their insurance rates are going to go up. The bulk of our funding goes to providing this supplemental insurance. We do background checks on all of our volunteers because we are sending them into peoples homes and we need to make sure our volunteers do not have bad driving records or police records. Each background check costs us $35.

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