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When Your Work is Volunteering

October 3, 2020

Another Way for week of October 2, 2020

When Your Work is Volunteering

(Editor’s note: Sixth in a seven-part series on the nature of work.)

Many people of all ages get a lot of inspiration and validation from volunteering: we feel good helping others feel better.

This is especially true in retirement when one’s work can be totally volunteer. Experts say it is wise to have interests to keep us motivated, involved, and helping society as we get older. Of course, the current pandemic has made a huge dent in what older people (especially) feel safe doing.

My mother has found fulfillment through a variety of volunteer jobs over the years. At 96 and not able to drive anymore, the options for volunteer work have changed, but not the will and opportunity. She nudged me to write about this topic because she hopes others might decide to get involved in volunteer work too.

Mom especially enjoyed her early years volunteering at her retirement complex. She greeted people who wished to visit the healthcare part of the facility, or helped them if they needed directions to a room. Mom had some scary challenges at times. One night a resident with memory issues wanted to go where he wasn’t allowed and she had to stop him. “You can’t tell me where to go,” he spouted.

But those were the exceptions. “I got a free dinner at the Sideboard [the in-house cafeteria for staff and guests] when I worked. They gave me a volunteer pass and I got all kinds of delicious meals!”

Mother also read to a blind woman—short stories from books like Chicken Soup for the Soul. She grew close enough to the woman and family to hug the daughter at the woman’s eventual funeral. “When you could hug in those days,” Mom reminisced.

Mom loves reading aloud with lots of energy and emphasis: here she is reading lines in a play put on by the Curtain Raisers, where she has acted in recent years, even into her 90s. All of the actors volunteer as free entertainment for their retirement community.

Then a good friend of hers from childhood couldn’t see to read, so Mom began reading for Mabel. “We grew up together, went to the same church and our mothers quilted together,” Mom said. In these later years in healthcare, Mabel couldn’t sing much but they sang together anyway and also cried together. “She lost two children,” Mom recalled sadly. And then her husband died after a fall on his head.

Earlier when our family lived in north Florida, Mom and women from our church drove to a facility where people needed help writing letters to their families. “Sometimes I just kind of made up stuff if they couldn’t think of what to say, and I read it to them and asked if it was ok.” Mother still enjoys writing letters.

Dad, Buster, and Mom in a photo taken by photographers for Mennonite Board of Missions “SOOP” volunteer program. Mother always hated the farm jacket she was wearing here, and Dad with his painty overalls. But with Buster looking up so adoringly at Dad, this is one of my favorite photos of the two of them. (Should I say the three of them.)

When my dad retired from farming, they volunteered for a couple months each winter in south Texas. They helped those with disabilities get in and out of a therapeutic pool, and played Bingo at a nursing home. My parents enjoyed the camaraderie with other volunteers in the SOOP program which at one point stood for Service Opportunities for Older People. Now it serves anyone—including families who want a short or long term service experience.

When Mother could no longer drive and couldn’t quilt because of arthritis, she began grading Bible correspondence courses for prison inmates through a program called Gospel Echoes. Since Mother lives nearby, someone delivers a pack of lessons to Mom most weeks. We are all very grateful for this outlet for Mom’s service at this point in her life. It helps keep her going and she talks about how much she has learned about prison life—and the Bible—through the questions they ask and the stories they share. She prays regularly for many of the students, and they express gratitude for her help.   

I hope you can find the opportunities that fit you in retirement or any age. It’s best to start young because of how it opens your eyes to acute needs and the life experiences of other people.

What volunteer work would you like to try that you have not done yet?

What was your best volunteering experience ever?

Were there volunteer opportunities that didn’t pan out as expected?

For more information on SOOP, go to or call 866-866-2872 (toll-free); or or call 574- 533-0221.


For a free small booklet called “Work Therapy” with 35 tips on enjoying work, write to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. margaret Kauffman permalink

    Always enjoy your posts – especially when you write about your Mother in Juniper

  2. Thanks, Margaret. She truly wanted me to write about it so others would get involved as they are able. 🙂

  3. What a vibrant woman your mom is. I like that she nudged you to write about this topic because she hopes others might decide to get involved in volunteer work too.

    My mother was a similar role model. She volunteered at sewing circle for her church. Then weekly she donated time at the Gift & Thrift Store sorting through clothes I have a photo of her at the register; I probably blogged about it at some point.

    Her favorite stint, however, was working at Choice Books, where she rubber stamped Christian books for sale. Her day to serve was Wednesday, and then she got to work alongside friends and her oldest niece, Dorothy. So, volunteering for Mom was a way to get out of the house and socialize while doing good. Win-win, I say.

    I want to be like her and your mother when I’m 96. 🙂
    What an inspiration!

  4. I’m excited to read that your mother used to volunteer for Choice Books–which operated out of the same office where I worked for decades. I’m sure she was hooked in to the local distributorship–maybe at Lancaster or Litiz??

    My mother tried volunteering at Mennonite Board of Missions headquarters but the tasks required standing on feet all day, as in assembling mailings. (Not sure why they didn’t have tables for volunteers, which is what we did at MennoMedia so people wouldn’t have to stand.) At any rate, it is nice to be able to choose tasks that fit one’s health and aspirations and loves.

    You have the makings of a great 96 year old with the exercise you do! I should show the video of Mom doing some of hers. 🙂 Blessings.

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