SECOND CAREER VOLUNTEER, a passionate, pennywise approach to retirement is a first-hand account of a lifestyle worth investigating.
Although the book is geared toward retirement, the financial crisis has made the content relevant to retirees, college graduates entering the workforce, or those displaced with recent shifts in employment. Second Career Volunteer speaks to those in a state of flux, to those looking for budgetary options while they take a moment to assess their particular situation.
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
Q1: What inspired you to write the book / Why did you write Second Career Volunteer?
A: Questions. I had been an Administrative Assistant for over 45 years (and a single mother most of those years). This does not allow travel or savings! While age 65 was looming, and knowing I would be depending on Social Security income, retirement was not going to happen … until I received an email explaining there were organizations who supplemented their staff with volunteers – offering FREE room and board in exchange for workplace skills! THIS WAS A DISTINCT POSSIBILITY! All I had to do was get there. So – after some planning – in July of 2005 I retired, and in August, got in the car and drove to Alaska to begin my first experience as a long-term, long-distance volunteer.
Q2: There are many books on retirement – WHY IS YOUR BOOK DIFFERENT? (Why this book/why now?)
A: Because it is not financially driven – I have limited financial resources and had to figure out how I could afford to retire. Most retirement books tell you how to build a 401k or how to manage money in retirement. What if circumstances have prevented or depleted savings? Second Career Volunteer offers budget retirement options not only to those who are retired or planning to, BUT to college graduates entering the world of work AND TO those who find themselves dismissed from the workforce, in a state of flux, or/and with limited finances. My volunteer lifestyle offers travel and multicultural, multi-generational interaction on a budget to anyone. The book is a how-to with insider information – between each how-to chapter are interviews of other volunteers working within this lifestyle.
Q3: How did you get started?
A: Planning! While I was still working, I received that fortuitous email stating there were organizations that supplemented their staff with volunteers, offering free room and board in exchange for workplace skills. Because I would be limited to Social Security income, I did not think I could retire, but that email that stirred my imagination and set the wheels in motion. I was healthy, active and involved and wanted to remain so in retirement. After a year of planning, downsizing and dreaming, I retired in July, and in August got into the car and drove to Alaska.
Q4: BUT you said you work a 40-hour week? Retirement is/should be a time of NO (see #5) schedule!
A: Yes, there is a work schedule, but it is MY schedule. Assignments may be part-time or full-time, depending on what you work out with the Volunteer Coordinator. In planning a new assignment, I set the parameters – responsibilities, schedule, and housing. Some volunteers choose familiar skills; others choose to do something new. Again, it’s your choice — dependent on the needs of the organization. My choice is to be a long-distance, long-term volunteer (which translates to an assignment of 30 days or longer) but it is up to you. It can be a few weeks or longer than a year. Even if you own your home, you could ask someone to housesit for a week/month. It is the ability to travel – without housing and food costs. Incidental expenses are a personal decision. It is a win-win. As explained in Second Career Volunteer, I receive much more than I give and still have evenings and weekends to explore wherever I have chosen to serve. Remember, through deliberate communication, the volunteer sets the parameters.
Q5: I am not ready for retirement – have a few years of work to go.
A: Planning should be a priority. Retirement has changed. It now translates to a time of independent imagination; time to get out of the “no” zone (no I can’t; no, not right now, maybe later) into the “know” zone (I know I can). Due to longevity and healthier lifestyles, we have twenty or thirty mystery years to exercise creativity. Everyone from age fifty should make time to plan for these mystery years. The Boomers are here! They represent many forward thinkers with leisure time to fill. Yet, some have had their financial resources reduced and feel they must cut-back or not travel at all. The budgetary options in Second Career Volunteer speak to that.
Q6: BUT, I can‘t just leave my home.
A: There is a chapter in the book that addresses housing. I am fortunate to share a home with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren — with a separate entrance! (They need their space; and I need mine.) You may choose to have someone house-sit, or ask a relative to oversee for a month while you investigate this lifestyle. Again, choice.
Q7: Retirement is a time to relax – yet you are driving all over the U.S. Do you intend to slow down?
A: Not unless I have to. There are two types of exercise – body and brain – which work in tandem to keep you healthy physically and psychologically. I often say that when I get to where I cannot climb mountains, I’ll learn to play the piano and raise orchids – or write another book. You can do that sitting down! If you are concerned about family connections, there is email, Skype and, of course, cell phones. Most “mature adults” are computer savvy either on their own computer or those available at local libraries. Besides, email saves time and affords a visible trail of communication. Without effort, you become an example to family and friends. My adventures have evolved into a geography lesson for my grandchildren. We are all teachers!
Q8: What qualities are necessary for success in the volunteer world?
A: Patience, flexibility, and compromise. I mention in Second Career Volunteer that accommodations are early attic rather than 5-star; they are clean and comfortable. And, you enter into a ready-made community. You interact with others who have work ethics similar to yours. You DO need to investigate by asking questions about responsibilities and housing. Appendix #1 in Second Career Volunteer has Personal Evaluation and Organization Evaluation forms. I developed these because I did not ask the right questions – or overlooked issues – or assumed (BIG mistake). Complete the forms with your preferences and keep them handy when you email or phone for particulars. There is also an A-Z grid of organizational websites as a starting point (note some has costs associated with volunteering – read carefully).
Q9: Tavel alone is intimidating.
A: You may travel alone, but you arrive to a welcoming community of multi-cultural, multi-generational volunteers and staff, to those who have been there, done that. Come by train, bus, or plane and arrange to be picked-up. I chose to drive. Remember, all you need do is get there.
Q10: What are you working on now – what is the future?
A: I am focused on marketing my book to reach the largest audience – and through learning the process of “publicity” and have written – MARKET 1st, WRITE 2nd. In June, I returned from Albuquerque where I was assistant to the Headmaster of The Menaul School. This school has evolved from a Spanish speaking school for boys to a day school for “the many faces of New Mexico”. Investigating the Southwest and revisiting the history there was fascinating. I usually begin planning in September for the following year. (Of course, leaving the Albany, NY area in Jan is not rocket science.)
Q11: What was/is the most amazing aspect of volunteering?
A: Other than “getting out and giving back”? It has to be how many people simply do not know this option is available!
Q12: Is this a bad time to publish?
A: It is precarious at best. I did secure an agent and Knopf found the book to be well-written and timely – however, felt the targeted audience was not large enough. I disagreed, took the initiative and self-published (with Troy Book Makers). I am enjoying the process, but remain focused on the greater good and FUN this lifestyle generates.