Baby boomers are largest group to step up, volunteer
Dolores Eboli of Penn Hills spends most of her Thursdays at the Animal Rescue League’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, where she helps nurse injured wildlife back to health.
Eboli, 58, has enjoyed this volunteer work for three years. Every time she comes in, she gets a new assignment, ranging from cleaning cages to feeding the Verona center’s possums, skunks, baby owls, and more.
“They’re just the best,” says Eboli. “Animals in general are wonderful but wildlife — how often do you get one-on-one with a possum?
“I get so much more out of it than they probably do,” she says. “It’s very fulfilling to care for something and see it released.”
Eboli, a member of the some 77 million-strong baby boomer generation, belongs to the age group that does the most volunteer work, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 33 percent of all baby boomers — born between 1946 and 1964 — volunteer on a regular basis, according to the bureau numbers. That is the highest rate of any generational group and four percentage points above the national average of 28.8 percent.
In 2009, 22.8 million boomers gave 3.1 billion hours of service to American organization, the numbers say.
Boomer volunteerism has increased during the past few decades. The volunteer rate for young boomers, ages 46 to 57, is 30.9 percent, significantly higher than the 25.3 percent recorded by the same age group in 1974 and the 23.2 percent recorded in 1989.
Perhaps the baby boomers — several decades after marching in Washington, and participating in other activism during the Vietnam War and social change of the ’60s and ’70s — still feel the drive to change the world and make a difference, says Sandy Scott, spokesman for the Corporation for National & Community Service in Washington, D.C. Many boomers are retirees and/or empty nesters, which gives them more free time. And their volunteer projects often go way beyond licking envelopes: boomers often play key organizational and managerial roles in their volunteer work, Scott says.
“It’s been called the largest, best-educated, wealthiest generation in the history of our country,” he says. “I think that’s why there’s so much interest in the nonprofit sector. They bring a lifetime of skills and experience. They’re also the generation that changed the world, and changed every institution they’ve gone through.
“They felt like they were part of a cause larger than themselves,” Scott says.
His organization wants to see volunteering become a part of every baby boomer’s retirement, Scott says.
“The good thing is that they’re a generation that already helped to make a lot of social change in their younger years, and they’re very open to that idea,” he says.
Marce Mizerak, of Peters, says she has used her background as an advertising and marketing professional to help her perform her volunteer duties at the St. Clair Hospital Outpatient Surgical Waiting Area. She uses her people skills to keep families updated, and help them stay calm, during loved ones’ surgeries.
“It’s really wonderful to be able to go out and be able to help people and talk with people,” says Mizerak, 61. She became a widow in January, and says that her volunteering helps bring joy into her life and others.
Mizerak says she is not surprised by the volunteer activity among her fellow boomers.
“We have a very strong work ethic,” she says. “Most of us had jobs when we were still in high school, and learned the value of earning money. … We know how to roll up our sleeves, and we don’t know the meaning of the word ‘No.’ ”
Bill Blair, 52, of Forest Hills, says that, as he gets older, his priorities shift. Blair — who spends about 25 hours a month working as a cat cuddler at the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania’s East Liberty shelter — says that he wants to make the most of his time by helping animals, which is his passion.
“It just makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something,” Blair says. “I just want to give (homeless cats) the best life that I can.”
When he hit 50, Blair says he started to think, “You know, it’s not about possessions: it’s about helping.”
Sue Glinka, 57, a retired bank analyst from Collier, works one day a week as a dispatcher for volunteer escorts, and does supportive visitation with patients, at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon.
“I love to sit and enjoy talking to (patients),” Glinka says. “I just feel like I’ve made their day. They say, ‘Thank you for coming and visiting me.’ For me, that’s rewarding, and I feel like I’m giving back to somebody that really needs the help.”
Glinka says that people in her boomer generation seem to want to take care of others. “I think my generation and the people I’m associated with — this is the way we are. … In my generation, I feel we still care about one another.”
Eboli isn’t sure her generation has much to do with her volunteer work; she’s just always been an animal lover.
“It just seemed like a natural thing to do,” she says.
Jane Clohessy, 60, of Greensburg, works at the Westmoreland County Food Bank on Wednesday morning, when she, husband Rick and a group of friends separate meat delivered from stores and repack it. She sometimes delivers food to needy residents at a high-rise.
“You know you’re helping other people,” Clohessy says. “Especially when you see the faces of the people when you go to the doors.”
Clohessy says that she and her boomer peers often are in better physical condition and have more energy than their Depression-era parents at this age.
“We’re retired, but we don’t just want to sit around and watch TV all day,” she says.
To get involved
The Corporation for National & Community Service runs a website, www.getinvolved.gov , just for baby-boomers seeking volunteer opportunities. At the site, you can find out about service opportunities in the area through the Senior Corps program, read volunteers’ stories and get fact sheets and brochures.