How volunteering in retirement can help your community and your own health


Jill Bellarmino, featured at Cape May MAC in New Jersey, says she enjoys the flexible hours of volunteering and the feeling of fulfillment. “When I finish a project, I feel proud,” she says.

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Shortly after Jill Bellarmino and her husband, Lee, retired and moved from Toms River to Cape May, NJ, around 10 years ago, the couple returned to work. Volunteer work, that is to say.

“We wanted to give back to the community,” she says, and so they chose Cape May MAC, an acronym for Museums + Arts + Culture, a non-profit organization that works with 225 volunteers to promote the cultural enrichment of the community. Jersey Shore historic seaside resort. .

As a volunteer since 2014, Bellarmin, 72, has been able to harness the organizational skills she has used in her jobs as a school district secretary and library worker. Her husband, who had been a bank president, is treasurer and member of the board of directors of MAC.

Volunteering helps not only organizations, but also volunteers, say health experts. Seniors who participate in volunteer activities enjoy benefits for their emotional, cognitive, and physical health, including a reduced risk of depression and anxiety.

“Seniors who volunteer find themselves walking, lifting, bending and stretching more. This level of physical activity is essential for the prevention of disability and physical loss, ”says Dr. Ericka Tung, geriatrician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “Engagement in service activities also keeps individuals cognitively engaged,” she adds. “Research suggests that constant community involvement protects against cognitive impairment.”

Results of an AARP survey published in 2019 found that adults 65 and older are more likely than young adults to volunteer on a regular basis. Thirty-two percent of volunteering on a weekly basis, averaging about 10 hours per month. One in four adults, however, say they are more likely than other age groups to be prevented from volunteering due to health issues or other physical limitations.

Health concerns did not deter Joan Sampieri from volunteering. After being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, the Bridgewater, Michigan resident continued to serve as President of the League of Women Voters in Washtenaw County and as Treasurer of the Friends of North America Denominational General Conference.

Politics led her to join the local chapter of the league, a non-partisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. “By the end of 2015, the League had started working on the gerrymandering issues in Michigan and that interested me,” says Sampieri, 77. She took over as chairman of the League chapter in 2019, with membership increasing from 75 to over 300 over the five years.

After the diagnosis of myeloma, she withdrew briefly. “My health impacted my involvement for about two months when I had the stem cell transplant,” she says, “but in both cases good people (from both organizations) stepped in” for m ‘to help. “The virtual meetings allowed me to continue working with both groups when I couldn’t travel,” adds Sampieri, who held various jobs before retiring, including carpenter, business manager of the rehabilitation medicine department of Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia and Vice President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Miami. and the Florida Keys. In retrospect, she believes her outdoor activities have contributed to her recovery. “Volunteering, and especially being able to do it in a limited way with support after the stem cell transplant, definitely kept me from focusing on fatigue just like me, I felt after the transplant”, she says. “The transplant has added several years and a better quality of life to me, but it is not a cancer that we ‘cure’. Tyler J. VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology at Harvard University and director of the school’s Human Flourishing Program, did research based on 13,000 adults in a health and retirement study with eight years of data on each participant. During the study period, participants who volunteered at least two hours per week, compared to none at all, subsequently had higher levels of happiness, optimism, and purpose in life. life, and more contact with their friends, he said. They were also significantly less likely to die over the four years of follow-up, about 40% less.

Seniors who volunteer find themselves doing more walking, lifting, bending and stretching. This level of physical activity is essential for the prevention of disability and physical loss.


– Dr Ericka Tung, geriatrician at the Mayo Clinic

Still, Tung says the optimal duration is variable and depends on the person. “Finding a balance is really important – so that the activity is fulfilling and inspiring, but not too long so that they feel overwhelmed or exhausted from their service activities,” she says.

There are exceptions to the rule, she adds. “I have patients who actually spend more hours per week than they spent on their pre-retirement work. The service is just that rewarding.

For Bellarmine, who volunteers six hours a week in two three-hour shifts, flexibility is key. “As a volunteer, you can set your own hours. It’s a good thing, ”she emphasizes.

One of his first projects was to photograph most of the 6,000 artefacts in the Emlen Physick Estate, a museum located in one of Cape May’s famous Victorian homes. She also checks the artifacts for cracks, records them on paper and a computer to make sure they match, and has cataloged around 600 books in the museum’s reference library.

“I like the detail work and digging something. There is always something to do, ”says Bellarmino. “When I finish a project, I am proud. “

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