Tag Archives: Volunteering in retirement

What Now?

Let’s say you’re about to retire — or you already have. What will you — or do you — do with all that delicious free time? Sadly, in my view, too many otherwise able-bodied retirees play a passive role, such as in watching TV all day, or remaining in thrall to their computer screens. Others spend their days on the likes of golf links and their evenings at the club — following the biblical injunction, I guess, “Eat, drink, and be merry, because tomorrow we die.”

Yes, of course, enjoying one’s leisure years is vital to our later health and wellbeing. We’ve certainly earned this enjoyment and relaxation. But think about it: If we retire from the workforce in our mid-sixties, we may well have twenty or more years left on your life clocks — and that’s a long, long time from “tomorrow.”

What if more of us put even a fraction of that freer time to really good use by making an ongoing positive contribution to your communities? That is to say, volunteer. Opportunities abound everywhere. The cost is nothing. The rewards are immeasurable. Call it selfishness if you wish: Volunteering will make you feel really, really good.

Here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a great many retired foreigners have heeded their hearts’ call to give back in gratitude to the greater SMA community by volunteering their time and talents. There are more than eighty NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in San Miguel, ready and willing to accept the help of volunteers to keep their organizations going. (See list below.)

Two of these organizations have recently published wonderful books about their programs, which are sure to inspire readers to follow their lead and volunteer. These books were designed as fund-raising efforts, but to me they also serve as excellent models that others might emulate, not only here in San Miguel but anywhere in the world.

THE SCHOOL ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER: The Educational Journey of Los Ricos de Abajo, by Dianne Walta Hart and Carolyn Wells Simsarian, is an immensely uplifting story of, as co-author Carolyn titled her talk last Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (www.uufsma.org) service here, “The Transformative Effects of Volunteering.” This book vividly captures the voices of this reciprocal group effort, which began in 2004 and continues to this day.

In her presentation on Sunday Carolyn stressed the reciprocity of this enduring endeavor. “There’s no fixing, no saving, no imposing,” she said. Rather, it’s been “one step at a time,” taking “baby steps” – always discussing first with the locals and reaching consensus. “We grew where we saw the need, pulled back when something didn’t work, and continued to show up year after year.”

(To see the whole enriching UU service, including Carolyn’s presentation, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uHSWNvAdgA .)

Under the umbrella of the NGO Feed the Hungry San Miguel, as the new book recounts, a dedicated group of mostly ex-pat retirees from SMA began by volunteer-teaching English to students in grades one through six in the tiny, almost-inaccessible Mexican village “on the other side of the river,” Los Ricos de Abajo. As time passed, the program expanded to include more volunteers who worked with kindergarten through twelfth-grade students. Eventually the program was able to offer scholarships to students from seventh grade through university.

Los Ricos student Yessenia Balthazar Ramirez, who is now a lawyer, speaking at the UU service last Sunday

As co-author Carolyn writes toward the end of the book, “What we didn’t understand at the beginning was the power of collaboration. Yes, we thought we would enjoy getting out into rural Mexico, learning about the culture of village life, and perhaps helping kids in the process. We did not expect to be embraced by the community, to make true and long-lasting friends, and see the community grow with us in the circle of giving and receiving.”

Bob Bowers, one of the many grateful voices in the book, testifies, “My time with the program has been and continues to be some of the most rewarding, fulfilling, and downright fun experiences of my life.”

THE OPEN GATE: The Story of Ojalá Niños, a Creative Community for Otomi Families in San Miguel Viejo, Mexico, by Elsmarie Norby with a foreword by Debora Annino, is a big, beautiful, bilingual, coffee-table-quality book that transports readers with its dazzling full-page, full-color photos and fascinating true stories.

The stories are of a place with ancient roots and its people, especially one person, Elsmarie Norby, who founded a program for the village’s children, called Ojalá Niños (hope for the children). She’d moved into a modest house in this rural indigenous community outside of San Miguel de Allende in 2007 intending to live a simple, quiet life. But then flocks of inquisitive neighborhood children appeared at her gate and she opened it, along with her heart.

“Ojalá Niños is a place to learn, with space, materials, ideas, and guidance. Inspiring every child to find their joy and purpose,” Elsmarie writes. “This book contains a visual history of the lives we have changed in this work – and the lives that have changed me.”

As Betty Best Lopez, who has been a volunteer at Ojalá Niños for more than ten years, states in the book, “Elsa and Ojalá Niños have given me great purpose. It has been an education all along the way. I have learned so much on so many levels – history, education, nonprofit administration, fundraising, public speaking, more Spanish, and patience. I will be forever grateful for my experience here.”

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  • Both of the above books are available from Amazon.com, as well as from Aurora Books in SMA. All of the proceeds from both books go directly to the programs’ efforts to educate young people.
  • To learn more about Ojalá Niños, go to: ojala-ninos.org .
  • To learn more about upcoming events celebrating the Los Ricos book, contact Carolyn Simsarian at: jcsimsarian@yahoo.com . To volunteer with the Los Ricos program, contact Suzanne Bacon at: suzbacon@me.com .
  • In 2016, I interviewed Elsmarie Norby about her life and her creation of Ojalá Niños, which you can read in full at: blog.bonnieleeblack.com/elsmarie-norby/ .
  • I’ve written a number of previous WOW posts on the subject of volunteering in retirement. Here is just one: blog.bonnieleeblack.com/in-praise-of-downtime/ .