Active retirement can be a fulfilling career

Whether you’re already retired or are retiring in the near future, it’s never too soon to begin planning on how you will find fresh ways to keep busy outside the workplace.

Most people view retirement as an opportunity to throw away the alarm clock, forget rush-hour traffic and kick back. We envision extra time for gardening and golf, finishing those chores we’ve been putting off, traveling to visit loved ones and spending summers by the lake.

However, in reality, leisure time might leave you feeling unfulfilled or just plain lonely. And winter weeks after the hectic pace of the holiday season can be especially difficult.

Remember that whatever you did before retirement, you knew what role you played in the workplace. After a while, you might begin to miss that sense of purpose and belonging that you felt on the job.

Kathleen Cross, director of St. John’s Hospital Third Age Living and Caregiver Interfaith Volunteer Service in Springfield, Ill., knows seniors have much to offer. That’s why retirement is a great time to socialize and to take the time to use your gifts to assist others, she points out.

“Studies show that seniors who stay socially active are often healthier, happier and live longer with productive lives. The need to stay connected to others is fundamental to who we are,” Cross says. “Therefore, when one retires, it is important to replace the former wage earner, homemaker or family roles with a productive choice of how to use one’s leisure time.”

Karen Schainker, executive director of Senior Services of Central Illinois, agrees. “Sometimes socialization and keeping healthy and physically active go hand-in-hand,” she says.

Your local senior center is a great place to begin making new friends. Centers have information of volunteer activities, hold many classes and offer a variety of speakers and entertainment. Many centers also offer information on senior travel groups.

Often people are a little shy about coming to the senior center for the first time, Schainker says.

“Socialization is so important to giving people the desire to continue to stay active. They have something to look forward to. On an everyday basis, if you have peers your own age to relate to, it is easier to accept everyday challenges.”

Seniors who want to remain both social and active in community efforts often choose to volunteer in a variety of ways, Cross says.

“Many seniors turn to volunteerism as a meaningful way to stay socially active,” she says. “At St. John’s Third Age Living, volunteers are using their prior career skills to prepare taxes, complete insurance papers, teach computer classes, write newsletters and perform blood pressure screenings within the community.”

Many individuals rely on their faith to guide them in their search for retirement activities, Cross says. “Volunteers with Caregiver Interfaith Volunteer Service give of their time and moral support to provide transportation to doctor’s offices, respite care, errands and minor home repair. These acts of service are self-motivators because they help use the talents God has blessed us with. Also, they remind us that God has a new and special purpose for each of us to discover in our retirement years.”

In the Bay Area, volunteer opportunities with both Jewish-affiliated and secular organizations abound. A good place to start looking is with Jewish Community Information and Referral, a program of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. Call (415) 777-4545 or (877) 777-5247.