By: Craig Statton, Atherton CEO

My father owned and operated a clothing store in our hometown for 40 years.  He was active in every aspect of the community as president of the local Chamber of Commerce, member of the both the Rotary and Lion’s Club, leader in the local Methodist Church and former mayor and city council member.  As he began to contemplate retirement, he talked to me about the future.

Our conversations were about purpose and fulfillment.  He was trying to answer the question of how a person who has spent his adult life engaged in work and the community can continue to find purpose when he was no longer involved in those things that previously brought him satisfaction.  Ultimately the answer for my father was to get involved in serving the community with the same, and even a few new organizations that had given him so much joy and fulfillment in the past.

There is a growing body of research that says volunteer service provides social, emotional, and even physical health benefits for senior adults.  This study, which was published in the journal, The Gerontologist, followed more than 200 volunteers ages 50 and older who contributed an average of 6 hours a week to nonprofit or government programs which provide services to others. The specific nature of the study was to track how the choices of volunteer activities, the amount of adequate training and the ongoing support which the volunteers received made a difference in their experience.  A year later, the researchers asked the volunteers about the physical, mental, and socioemotional benefits as a result of their volunteer service.

The researchers found that the participants “reported significant improvements in their mental health, along with other socioemotional benefits ranging from a greater feeling of productivity to increased social activity to an overall sense that their life had improved.”  In addition, the researchers found that these benefits extended to all socioeconomic levels and even gave greater benefits to those of a lower socioeconomic level.  Ultimately, the study found that older adults are able to find purpose, satisfaction, and good health later in life while simultaneously giving back to their communities.

My father had a similar experience to the study. His work with the Salvation Army, his local church, and the services clubs made his transition to retirement much easier.  They also kept him engaged in the community he loved and gave him a reason to get up in the morning.  In fact, he once told me he didn’t know if he would have “time to work” anymore, he was just too busy volunteering.  As we begin a new year, it might be a good time to join a service club or community service organization and find ways to help.  I believe it will do you and your community a lot of good.