Since this is National Volunteer Week, Next Avenue offers another in our series of Profiles in Volunteering. After software engineer Marc Olson, 58, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was laid off in 2009, he stepped up his volunteering game at his church in a variety of ways. Now he's considering taking on new challenges to assist others. Here, Olson talks about how and why he volunteers:
I guess I consider myself retired, but I still look in the paper sometimes. From 1991 until 2009, I worked for Hewlett-Packard’s business help desk. Our business clients would call in with issues and I’d figure out their problem and help them solve it. When I was laid off in 2009, I had enough money saved that I didn’t feel I had to get another job right away. Soon I’ll be collecting Social Security, so I feel OK.
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Now I spend an average of about eight hours a week volunteering. It keeps me busy and it’s satisfying to solve problems and help people.
The Choir That Does Home Repairs
For years, I was in the bell choir at my church, Calvary United Methodist, and I still go on their annual trip to Chicago. We go for a week at a time and try to help people who are struggling with their living situation. Maybe you’d call them at-risk tenants, people who don’t have family or other support and might be getting evicted or just need a hand with a home repair. Others from the church assist them with paperwork and that sort of thing, but I like the hands-on stuff, so I assist them in their move, paint or just visit with them.
And I’ve started to do more singing. I’ve been in the Calvary choir since about 2000 and joined Soli Deo Gloria, a non-denominational community choir, in 2009. About two years ago in Soli, they made an announcement that the Colorado College Choir was looking for new members, so I went over there and joined that group, too.
The singing is fun. All three groups rehearse once a week; Soli and the college choir hold big performances twice a year and the church choir performs once a week at services. So that’s a good amount of singing!
One Volunteer Role Leads to Another
I also man the welcome desk at Calvary; I substitute when others can’t make it, which happens maybe twice a month. And when you start doing things like that, people begin asking you to do other things!
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Someone there talked me into doing sound for the church’s services and sometimes for weddings or funerals; I do that as a volunteer, too. And recently, five other people and I formed a "tech committee" to organize and troubleshoot all the computers, Internet and telephones that the church uses. I spend probably two half-days twice a month doing that.
The Joy of Helping to Stage Shows
One of the fun things I do as a volunteer with a friend is designing and building the sets for the church’s spring and fall musicals. The last one we did was a melodrama called Way Out West in a Dress. I don’t know yet what our next one will be. I guess it’s up to me to write some emails and get it started!
When we first began staging the musicals 15 or so years ago, you could tell it had a really nice effect on people. It got a lot of folks to come out to work on the shows and we all made some new friends. People were singing in the musicals who had never sung before. It made a big difference to a lot of people, I could tell.
His Next Volunteering Assignment
I’ve been thinking it would also be nice to volunteer for some other organizations. I’m not really a communications person, but there’s a place here called TESSA [Trust, Education, Safety, Support and Action] for people — mostly women and children — who are physically abused and need a place to stay, information or counseling. I haven’t contacted anyone there yet, but that's a place I think about.
It’s bad to be bored and it’s fun to help people, so I know I need to keep stepping outside my comfort zone.
April Greene is an editor for Idealist.org, a global hub that connects people to the resources they need to move from intention to action. Idealist hosts the Web’s largest nonprofit job board and maintains a wealth of free information about volunteering, graduate school and work for the common good.