Helping Hands: Retirees in Community Give Back

by Jack Dodson and Hannah Sharpe for The Pilot (Southern Pines, NC)

Summer 2010

Caroline Eddy, the executive director of the local nonprofit, holds a handful of prayers written by people in dire economic straits that she has kept from years of working at the coalition,.

“I would like special prayer from God to help me financially so I can take care of my kids and bills,” reads one note from 2008.

The coalition has helped many local residents in desperate situations over the years. It could not do that without volunteers – many of whom are retired.

The organization provides food and resources for Moore County residents.

Development Director Barrett Walker says the coalition had about 641 clients in June, which is a typical amount for one month. With 300 volunteers a year averaging anywhere from five hours of work a month to five a week, the organization can only stay open a couple of hours each morning.

The need is big for its services.

According to the U.S. Census website, 11.6 percent of residents in Moore County live below the poverty line. Among residents under age 18, the level increases to 18.1 percent.

“There’s absolutely more need than there are volunteers – we could use 300 more,” Walker says. “If you took out the retired volunteers, we’d be hosed.”

A sign hangs above a table in the conference room at the coalition, facing a wall of portraits, former directors, reading, “RSVP serves here.” To Walker, it’s representative of the organization’s workforce – the retiree community in Moore County.

Most of the older volunteers come via the county’s Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, Walker says, referring to the organization that pairs residents age 55 and older with nonprofits where they can volunteer.

In a county where volunteering is popular, the largest demographic in Moore County is retirees, according to many nonprofits in the area. Many retirees who move to the area end up getting involved in volunteer work.

“I’ve heard people say they retire and then they’re busier than ever,” says Linda Pearson, the executive director of the Moore County United Way. “That’s because they’re volunteering.”

It’s partly because they have the time and money to put toward volunteering, Pearson says, but also because they feel they need to give something back to the community – even if it wasn’t where they had lived previously.

Though Pearson says she has noticed a lot of people in their 20s who call the United Way looking for volunteer work, most who come through her office are retired.

Want to Give Back

For Linda Hubbard, volunteer coordinator for the Moore County school system, many of the people she works with are retirees.

“Most of the people who come here have been very active all their lives and they’re not prone to sit at home,” Hubbard says.

Hubbard is also the force behind the BackPack Pals program at the Sandhills Food Bank, which provides food to poor students in the area on weekends. It also depends on volunteers, who come in and pack the backpacks every week during the school year.

Bob Lee and his wife helped create and maintain the Given Bookstore in Olmsted Village, a nonprofit stemming from the Given Memorial Library in Pinehurst. They have put in five days of work every week for the last six years – for free.

With about 20 hours of work under their belts each week, the Lees do everything from stacking books and helping the customers to managing business. Bob Lee used to be an accountant in New Jersey, but when he moved down to Pinehurst a few years ago he began -volunteering regularly.

When he first started, Bob says the work was just something that was needed. The shop had a lack of organization and he had the time to fix that.

“He knows every book in this place,” says another -volunteer, Deirdre LaCasse. “He’s the heart and soul of this shop.”

Another couple, Bob and Mary Hopkins, moved to Pinehurst in the fall of 2008, and have been active in nonprofits ever since. The Hopkins were no strangers to moving, they say, with 26 moves between them. But the latest one was the first that was entirely discretionary.

Both say they wanted to give back once they retired to Pinehurst and that they weren’t ready to just sit around. And, unlike younger couples, they have the time to put toward volunteering every day.

“In general, retirees have a lot of time on their hands,” Bob says. “And in general, they don’t want to spend the rest of their lives playing golf and tennis.”

As a co-chairman of the Empty Stocking Fund, a project through the Military Officers Association, Bob puts a lot of his time into this organization. The fund, which was started 12 years ago, provides low-income families in Moore County with personalized gifts at Christmas.

“Without the program, the situation around Christmastime would be much grimmer,” Bob says. “If this program ceased to exist, the county would feel it – I’m convinced of that.”

Mary says she’s involved in various organizations around Moore County, including the Empty Stocking Fund.

“You get much more than you give when you’re doing something like this,” Mary says. “You hear it in their voices – they say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ They just can’t thank you enough.”

‘Breaks Your Heart’

For Walker and the coalition, the retired volunteer force is what keeps the organization going.

With nearly all of the volunteers being retired, Walker says she can’t imagine the Coalition working without them. A lot of times, she says, there are National Honor Society students, but they don’t come back regularly.

“(The NHS students) come in and do their hours and then they’re done,” she says.

The organization finds the need for volunteering is greater in Moore County than many realize. Even in an area where the retirement community adds significantly to the volunteer population, the need is still prevalent.

“The biggest challenge for us is the misconception of the need,” Walker says. “There is a significant level of poverty.”

Eddy says one situation stood out in mind as being representative of the need in Moore County.

A few years ago, an elderly couple from Cameron came to the coalition. The husband had Alzheimer’s disease. They were poor, hungry and didn’t have a washer and dryer. The man would frequently soil his clothes.

For his 95th birthday, a volunteer bought the couple a washer and dryer, she says.

“It’s just hard to believe when you drive around Moore County that there are people that live without a washer and dryer or running water,” Eddy says. “People don’t see this.”

Another example she gave was a 17-year-old boy from Southern Pines who recently came into the Coalition with his mother.

“He and his mother were getting ready to lose their power the next day,” she says. “His mother had MS, and she was about to get tested to see if she had cancer. His dad left when he was 1, so they were living on child support. It just breaks your heart.”

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