Volunteer Opportunities for Retirees

When I posted about my first year of blogging, I asked for topic ideas for future posts. One topic I received was for information about volunteer opportunities for retirees, so I thought I’d do some research and pass along my newfound knowledge.

Now, I’m sure a lot of you could provide great input on this topic, as I know many of you, retired or not, do volunteer work. I’m positive I will miss something so please feel free to add what you recommend in the comments so others can benefit from your knowledge.

This will be heavily skewed to the Des Moines, Iowa area, but I’m sure those of you who don’t live around here have similar options to consider.

What kinds of options attract retirees?

I think it’s important for anyone to first think about what kind of work they’d like to do. What skills do you have, possibly from your old job, that could be put to good use? What talents and interests do you have that have nothing to do with your old job, giving you an opportunity to try something completely new? How much time do you want to invest and how much flexibility do you need?

Retirees would be perfect for those activities that require time on weekdays since we have those days free. Or maybe something that can be done at home whenever you have the time, so it’s flexible and doesn’t interfere with other plans you might have. Maybe even something that can be done regardless of where you are located, so if you go away for the winter, you can continue to do it. From what I can tell, organizations will take whatever time you have to give.

Getting started

Your search will be easier if you first determine what types of work you like to do. Are you a people person? Do you like to drive? Do you like children or babies? Is there an organization (or type of organization) you’re already attracted to? Are you good with the elderly? Do you have medical or creative skills? Do you like animals?

Once you’ve identified boundaries for your search, it will be easier to zero in on the right option for you.

Volunteering I do or I’ve considered

I’ll start with those I know the most about – what I actually do and what I’ve considered doing. I will admit, my vertigo has kept me from branching out more. It’s also limited the types of activities I feel comfortable doing.

For instance, I’d love to drive cancer patients to their treatments, deliver blood to and from the blood center, or pick up food pantry donations. But I’m not willing yet to do anything that requires driving, for fear I could have an episode. Note: I drive all the time without an issue; I just don’t want to be responsible for someone else when I do.

I am currently part of United Way’s RSVP 55+ Initiative, for my Book Buddy volunteer work. (See my previous post about Book Buddy for more information on that.) There are similar reading opportunities with children that don’t require a big time commitment.

I’ve strongly considered working at the DMARC (Des Moines Area Religious Council) food banks. When I was working, someone from the food bank spoke to us and it resonated with me. Ever since, I’ve made annual cash donations to Move the Food, but I’d also like to volunteer my time to help out. If you’d like to learn more about these opportunities, check out their website.

West Des Moines has something called the Clothes Closet, which I thought would be an interesting way to volunteer. Volunteers accept and sort donations of clothing and household items from the community as well as assist clients with selections and maintain the orderliness of the room. This would be entirely different from my old job, which kind of intrigues me. West Des Moines also has its own food pantry.

If you live in the Des Moines area, here is information about West Des Moines specific opportunities. I haven’t checked any of the other suburbs, but I’m sure they each have this same type of information available. You’d be surprised at all the different volunteer opportunities there are, some you never would have thought of!!

What else?

United Way

If you start with the United Way, you’ll find all kinds of information. To help you sift through all the options, they’ve grouped them into four categories – Education, Income/Finance, Health, and Other. Below I’ve listed a few items from each category that caught my eye.

Education includes things like: ESL (teaching English as a second language), Terrace Hill tour guides, Blank Park Zoo, Botanical Center, Salisbury House, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and AARP.

Income/Finance includes: preparing taxes, food bank accounting, working at the Wesley Acres gift shop.

Health covers: hospice, driving cancer patients to and from treatments.

Other: host family for foreign exchange students.

There are so many opportunities to be found through the United Way, if you don’t start here first, you might miss something perfect for you.


This looks to be a treasure trove of options. It does require you to set up an account, or use another login such as your Facebook account.

You can view opportunities by cause (children and youth, community, computers, education and literacy, health and medicine, and seniors) and with filters (kids, 55+, teens, groups). As a retiree, filter on 55+ to see what’s available for us.

One other helpful option is to view activities that are local or virtual. So, if you want to find something you can do anywhere the virtual option is really handy. Go there and see what strikes your fancy!!

Other options to explore

  • Hospitals have needs for many volunteers. Locally, you can find info at Unity Point and Mercy Des Moines. You’ll find everything from information desk volunteers to cuddling babies.
  • Your church will have many ways you can serve within the church, within the community, within the United States, or outside the country.
  • Blood center. At our Life Serve Blood Center, these opportunities are listed: drivers, admin support, building services, donor recruitment and retention, and donor services. I gave blood for years and there were always retirees there making sure you drank orange juice and ate cookies after your donation!!
  • Ruth Harbor is a local home for pregnant women and young mothers. Volunteers with various interests and skills make Ruth Harbor possible and help it run efficiently. 
  • Animal Rescue League or AHeinz57. These are great options if you love animals and want to help find them good homes.
  • The Red Cross is involved in several types of activities, including helping people across the country when disaster strikes.
  • Something I recently came across and am strongly considering for myself is Project Linus. Their mission is to “Provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer ‘blanketeers.‘” They provide free patterns and have a local drop-off site in Ankeny. But if you check out their website, you’ll see they have chapters all across the US. This appeals to me for three reasons: flexibility, portability, and creativity.

Did I spark an interest?

I hope in all of this you found something you would like to explore further. Most of these things could be done by anyone, retiree or not, but since those of us that are retired have more time these days, it’s a perfect time to give back a little.

If you end up trying any of these, let me know. And as I said at the beginning, please share your own suggestions.

One thing I know for sure – you can’t say there aren’t opportunities out there!!

2 thoughts on “Volunteer Opportunities for Retirees”

  1. Many communities have Habitat for Humanity organizations and they almost always are looking for volunteers. A very worthy organization and you don’t have to be a construction expert. I have done painting. They also handle loans to the homeowners as well as mentoring in budgeting and other aspects of home ownership so no construction skills are necessary for that part of the organization!

    1. Great suggestion!! I know Des Moines has an active Habitat for Humanity organization.

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