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The Innovative Program Making Retirees Eager to Volunteer

Give 5 works by showing prospective volunteers the local needs firsthand

By Chris Farrell
Give 5 volunteers en route to serving their community
Give 5 "students" en route to learn now to help out  |  Credit: Chris Farrell

After Mike McGeeney, 70, worked 38 years for Kansas City Power & Light Company, he retired and then moved with his wife in 2017 to Springfield, Mo. to be closer to their kids and grandkids. Like many retirees, he got to thinking about how he could make the world a better place. “Getting older, I felt I have had a pretty good life and now is a time to give back,” McGeeney says. But he didn’t know where, or how, to do it.

The Give 5 program in Missouri lets prospective volunteers learn about local needs  |  Credit: Give 5 Coordinator Sony Hocklander

Until he heard about Give 5. It’s an innovative, two-year-old program in the Springfield area that lets retirees (or near-retirees) see firsthand where the needs are, and then helps them volunteer there.

Give 5 holds classes with 20 to 25 “students” who meet  once a week for five weeks. They get on buses at each meeting and then visit with nearly two dozen nonprofits to get a close look at poverty and other local concerns. The nonprofits explain their mission and pitch the opportunities they offer volunteers. In other words, Give 5 shows them the “why” and the “how” of volunteering, not just the “what” and “where.”

How Give 5 Gets Retirees to Volunteer

And the students, like McGeeney, often get hooked. About 140 have gone through the program and graduates end up volunteering 18 hours a month, on average.

"Volunteering can help restore that sense of purpose and identity that gives meaning to life."

McGeeney volunteers with three organizations when they need his services: Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation, which focuses on alleviating the causes and conditions of poverty locally; Prosper Springfield, which coordinates community services, and Give 5 itself. And he recently signed up for a volunteer program in an elementary school that one of his grandchildren attends.

“Give 5 opened my eyes to the need. Seems like tons of nonprofits in Springfield are trying to help those in need,” says McGeeney. “For us seniors — if I can use that expression — we learned what we could do, and about what we wanted to do, to make our lives more meaningful.”

Give 5 is the brainchild of Greg Burris, a former city manager of Springfield, and Cora Scott, director of public information and civic engagement for the city. The program is funded by a Greene County Senior Citizens’ Service Fund (a local tax) and sponsors. The name Give 5 comes from conversations Burris had with retirees. When he’d asked if they’d like to volunteer, many would say “No,” thinking he wanted them to give 40-hours a week. Burris would respond: “How about five hours a month?” They’d always say: "Yes."

Key to the program’s success is matching the particular skills of retirees with the volunteer needs of nonprofits. Retirees who’ve gone through Give 5 don’t want to be simply greeting people at an event or sending out mailings. They want to harness their experience and abilities for the greater good.

Put somewhat differently, volunteering is like dating —  a search for the right match. Give 5 allows both parties to find the right fit.

Finding the Right Volunteering Fit

That’s been the experience of Mary Chiles, 69, who participated in Give 5’s second class in March 2018.

Chiles is a retired mother of seven who has been a teacher, writer, retreat leader, camp cook and board member. Her first volunteer job after Give 5 was with Catholic Charities. Now she volunteers at the public library with an English as a Second Language program and plans to try other volunteering opportunities over time

“Whether I continue to volunteer in the specific programs Give 5 introduced to me, it was helpful to see what was going on in the community,” Chiles says.


3 Reasons Behind Give 5

Burris enthusiastically rattles off three social and economic forces behind the need for a program like Give 5:

America’s population is aging, with some 10,000 boomers turning 65 every day. Many of them are skilled and knowledgeable, but clueless about local volunteer opportunities. Nonprofits increasingly need to tap into their talents to accomplish their mission. “We find [older] people aren’t really sure what they should be doing,” Burris says. “Volunteering can help restore that sense of purpose and identity that gives meaning to life.”

Meaningful volunteering keeps retirees connected to the community — critical for staving off the health threats of social isolation and loneliness that so many retired people face. “When you retire, you stop being invited to things. It’s easy to become isolated,” says Burris. Last week, I participated in the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit, where high-tech entrepreneurs stressed dangers of social isolation and loneliness among older adults and highlighted the benefits of engagement and purpose.

Some boomers will make donations or bequests to the nonprofits they know and admire. That can help the local forces for doing good keep doing good. Burris says 54% of Give 5 grads have donated money to one or more local nonprofits as a result of the program.

The Benefits for Local Nonprofits

A class of volunteers at one of their service sites.
A graduating class of Give 5 participants  |  Credit: Chris Farrell

Getting skilled volunteers also helps the nonprofits expand their efforts. That’s been the experience at SeniorAge Area Agency on Aging, which serves people 60 and over through senior centers in 17 counties throughout southwest Missouri. Thanks to Give 5, SeniorAge is close to launching a pilot program to aid older adults in navigating the medical system. SeniorAge met numerous medical professionals from Give 5 classes. Now those grads are reaching out to their retired medical friends, gathering a critical mass of knowledgeable volunteers for the project.

“Another benefit of Give 5 is that it has helped with [nonprofits’] networking and collaboration in southwest Missouri,” says Alex Cobb, chief human resource officer for SeniorAge. “We all show up for the graduation for Give 5. We go to the meetings. We meet and see each other.”

Give 5’s Burris admits he failed at retirement; he stepped down as city manager last year and eight days later became executive-in-residence for the United Way of the Ozarks and head of Give 5. Now he and Scott are working at expanding the Give 5 model by licensing it through the United Way of the Ozarks to other communities.

“We’re finding the message resonates with communities,” says Burris. “They have the talent and they have a massive need for volunteers.”

Photograph of Chris Farrell
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media's Marketplace. An award-winning journalist, he is author of the books "Purpose and a Paycheck:  Finding Meaning, Money and Happiness in the Second Half of Life" and "Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life." Read More
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