How to Find the Right Volunteer Opportunity

As an educator, you are a member of the largest groups of trained professionals in the world. You have degree credentials, subject matter expertise, life experience and a passion for helping people learn. These qualities can help you find rewarding ways to stay active in education after retirement by volunteering.

When you volunteer, you directly help others. But it turns out that volunteering is good for you too. Recent studies have confirmed that people who volunteer actually feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. They report lower stress levels and develop a stronger sense of purpose and quality of life. This holds true even for seniors who may not be in the best of health: Volunteering makes them feel healthier and more vibrant.

Get Started in Your Own Neighborhood
Volunteer to be a substitute or a classroom assistant in your own school district. Local Head Start programs are always looking for volunteers to help with everything from hands-on classroom assistance to behind-the-scenes support for policy-making and office work. Or, consider connecting with an organization that can help match your talents to the right local volunteer opportunity:

  • Points of Light is the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service; their mission is to inspire action that changes the world. They have united other volunteer organizations like the Hands On Network and All For Good to create a powerful hub for volunteer service. You can even take volunteer training courses.
  • The Hands On Network, a service of Points of Light, led over 2.6 million volunteers last year! Find an action center and use your time and talents to help change your community.
  • All For Good, a service of Points of Light, is a hub that connects individuals to nonprofits. Search for a volunteer opportunity or if you are already part of a group, post your own volunteer event. And yes, there’s an app for that!
  • Create the Good connects you with volunteer opportunities to share your personal life experiences, skills and passions. Volunteer to work with young students adjusting to a new classroom setting, become a math or reading tutor, volunteer with your pet through Pets on Wheels or even volunteer from home as an editor or virtual fundraiser. Plug in your zip code to find opportunities near you.

Venturing Beyond U.S. Borders
The developing world is desperate for good educators. If you’re willing and able to make a longer-term commitment, and you’re up for some adventure, consider applying for one of the many programs that work to enhance education among disadvantaged cultures throughout the world.

  • The Peace Corps is a U.S. government program that engages volunteers in international service projects. Education is the Peace Corps’ largest program. Volunteers can work in elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools teaching subjects such as math, science and English. They may also develop libraries and technology resources.
  • The mission of Teachers Without Borders is to create local change on a global scale. TWB provides resources and tools to help teachers connect, collaborate and create online and through workshops and seminars. Volunteers can sign up for short-term stints in their own community or another country.
  • WorldTeach has programs in many developing countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and other regions. Volunteers gain new cultural understandings and learn how to work independently, often in challenging environments. WorldTeach encourages mid-career and retired educators to volunteer because the organization values their experience and professionalism.

Ideas From Fellow NEA Members
Need even more inspiration? The editors of NEA’s This Active Life, a publication for active retired educators, asked their readers for ideas on how they were staying engaged and connected to the education world. Here just a few of the responses:

  • Nancy volunteers in the classrooms of colleagues and friends, and also at a local science museum.
  • Susan does substitute teaching, which puts her back in the classroom but with more flexibility to pick the assignments she wants.
  • Shirley is an art docent in her granddaughter’s second-grade class and is finding it fun to be a part of her grandchildren’s education.
  • Greg does test prep and general tutoring, which allows him to work one-on-one with students. Look into online tutoring through websites such as Tutor.com, Kaplan and SmarThinking.com.
  • Kelly works as a literacy volunteer at a local early childhood education center. Much of her time is spent simply talking to kids to help boost their language skills and help prepare them for going to school full-time.
  • Wilhelmena mentors band and orchestra students to help prepare them for auditions, and Jason mentors younger teachers, helping them develop the types of skills they may not have learned in college, such as running a classroom and how to engage with parents. He sometimes mentors veteran teachers on the latest technologies and social networking platforms.
  • Eileen got elected to her local school board and now gets to visit many schools, review programs and play an active role in improving education in her area.

Eileen’s political activism required her to run a campaign and get elected. But there are many other ways to advocate for public education through the political process. You can contact your local association to find out which campaigns they are endorsing and then reach out to those campaigns to help with everything from fundraising to envelope stuffing. During election cycles, you can be a poll worker. Or leverage your insight and writing skills to write letters to the editors of local and national publications to promote education-related issues.

The Bottom Line
You can volunteer close to home or in faraway lands. Spend a few hours a week or commit to a months-long project. However you serve, volunteering may be the ultimate win-win activity. You’re able to help countless people with your expertise and passion for teaching. And arguably, you might get more benefit from the efforts than your students—including improved health, better social connections, less stress and a greater sense of connection and purpose. Doing good really is good for you.