UW Retirement Association

Community Engagement as Self-Care

Bob Rby Bob Roseth, retired Director of UW News and Information

One of the major changes that I made in my life after retiring was to pay more attention to the condition of my body.  Accordingly, I go to the gym every other day. I try to eat a diet rich in vegetables and whole grains. I try to get a good night’s sleep every night.

And I volunteer. Wait, what? Yes, volunteering is part of my program for staying healthy. It’s no exaggeration to say the verdict is in, that volunteering checks many of the boxes for a longer, healthier, happier life. You can look at up, as Casey Stengel used to say (boy, am I dating myself).

    • Volunteers are about five years healthier than non-volunteers.
    • Volunteers live longer than non-volunteers.
    • Volunteers who have heart problems reduce their chest pain and cholesterol when compared with non-volunteers.
    • Volunteering helps reduce anxiety and depression.  It increases your dopamine – the happiness hormone.

That’s fine. But the biggest reason why I continue to volunteer is that it lifts my spirits. See, I discovered that when I retired I could focus on those things that made me happy.  Helping others makes me feel better.  During my fulltime working days I served on the boards of several organizations. But I decided that making policy and holding staff accountable, while valuable, no longer got my juices flowing. I wanted to serve people directly.

I look forward to my weekly sessions tutoring elementary school students. I enjoy my visits to residents of long term care facilities. I look forward to my internet conversations with Spanish speakers eager to learn English (this is technically more an equal exchange than a volunteer gig, but I still see it as an opportunity to help others).

Maybe volunteering won’t hit you the way it has me. Fair enough. But you won’t know until you try. Find an organization that values your contribution, that has the good judgment to thank you for your efforts. If you’re like me, find a place where your contact with bureaucracy is minimal. Then watch what happens.

UW retirees have many opportunities within the university community. This year volunteers took part in Any Hungry Husky Food Pantry’s and the UW Farm’s efforts to address food insecurity among students and staff, tutored in Seattle Title 1 schools through the Pipeline Project, and shared career mentoring with UW students interested in their field through UWAA’s Huskies@Work program.

UWRA maintains a page listing volunteer opportunities. One great opportunity will be this July 1-7 when the UW hosts the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.  Signups begin in February. Here’s an inspirational one-minute video.