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Retirees: still doing good work

Retiree Bill Edmonds has donated his volunteer time to more than a dozen different island organizations, including Helpline House. Here, he bags canned goods for a family in need after manning the Helpline front desk for a shift. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Retiree Bill Edmonds has donated his volunteer time to more than a dozen different island organizations, including Helpline House. Here, he bags canned goods for a family in need after manning the Helpline front desk for a shift.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

Few encounter Bainbridge nonprofit organizations without meeting the retired volunteers who contribute time and money to many of these organizations.

And as more families need both parents in the workforce and have less time to give, retirees take up the slack.

“It is harder to recruit volunteers with so many households with two working parents,” Joanne Tews, executive director of Helpline House said. “If we didn’t have our retired volunteers, we would have to reduce some services, and maybe even curtail others.”

Tews says retired volunteers make up more than half her volunteer cadre, with the front desk almost completely manned by retirees.

Helpline, the Bainbridge public library, Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers, Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island Garden Club, Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, the senior center and Bainbridge Arts and Crafts are examples of island groups whose volunteers are often retired.

There are other groups which attract fewer retirees.

Some nonprofit directors point to a correlation between volunteer age and the age group served.

The Alive shelter for battered women is a magnet for younger women volunteers who have themselves escaped abusive relationships, director Barbara Mills says, while coordinator Shannon Buxton notes that the Bainbridge Teen Center also attracts younger volunteers.

An exception is one of Bainbridge Youth Service’s star volunteers, 86-year-old Hattie Pasquale.

“The retired volunteers have a lot of time and patience,” BYS director Connie Mueller said. “They bring a lot of wisdom – they’ve done it all, seen it all.”

A children’s librarian, Pasquale did postgraduate work at a time when women didn’t; lived in Hawaii for 27 years; taught at a school for the blind; and, as a Red Cross volunteer during World War II, drove a “mobile club” truck – in effect a lounge on wheels – throughout Europe.

“At Bainbridge Youth Services I like the contact with young people,” Pasquale said. “It kind of enlivens you. If you keep up with young people, you stay young – at least at heart.”

Mueller says Pasquale answers phones and helps match kids to jobs.

“She is really aggressive,” Mueller said, “and very thorough.”

While most retirees are older adults like Pasquale, not all are.

Tews notes that some of her retired volunteers are in their fifties or forties.

One such volunteer, Jay Rosenberg retired, at 42, from a San Diego bio-tech firm, where he helped pioneer a new drug for the treatment of lymphoma.

Rosenberg and his family moved to Bainbridge last November.

Before completing the move, however, Rosenberg had contacted Fletcher to volunteer at the wildlife shelter.

“Looking back,” he said,”I probably should have gone to veterinary school – except that I don’t like to see animals suffer.”

While Rosenberg says it also can be depressing to lose animals, there are “up” experiences, too, like exercising the red-tail hawk with an injured toe.

“The bird’s injury necessitated amputation of the toe, so she was around for quite a while,” Rosenberg said. “The form of exercise is called ‘creance,’ and it’s a falconry term.

“The bird is attached to your arm by long, leather straps.”

Rosenberg says that volunteering has been a way to meet people in his new community.

“I had heard it said that it’s difficult to make friends in the Pacific Northwest,” Rosenberg said, “but I have not found that to be true.”

Island Wildlife Shelter, adjacent to Bloedel Reserve, has about 20 volunteers like Rosenberg, administrator Sandra Fletcher says, who help with the shelter’s lifesaving efforts.

“Our most reliable volunteers are retired,” said Fletcher unequivocally. They often take the best care of the animals.”

Reliable help

Other coordinators say that their retired volunteers tend to be stable workers.

Cindy Harrison praises the library’s corps for their “reliability, super attitude, enthusiasm, skill and experience, sense of humor, ability to be ‘team players’ – the characteristics you would look for in an excellent employee.”

Retirees serve as the library’s current board treasurer and secretary, as well as the head of the fund-raising committee, Harrison says.

Retired volunteers help with grounds maintenance, book sales, producing and distributing the library’s newsletter, keeping bookshelves in order, assisting people with internet searches and even helping library patrons prepare tax forms.

“Our organization is so dependent upon senior volunteers,” Harrison said, “I can’t imagine how we could serve the public without them.”

Kate Gormley, program director and volunteer coordinator for Bloedel reserve is also quick to point out the strengths of her 95 percent-retired volunteer corps.

“With that high percentage, we’d be hard put to get along without them,” Gormely said. “It’s not just because of their numbers, though, but because of the work and life experience, wisdom and graciousness that older people bring to the job.”

Retired volunteers may face age-related challenges.

“Really, the challenges are only the physical ones we all face – tougher to reach the top and bottom shelves, eyes not as reliable as they once were – but they still find a way to contribute,” Harrison said.

Gormley and others note that their biggest challenge in working with retired volunteers is their busy schedules.

“Most of them volunteer for several organizations, have very active social lives and are inveterate travelers,” Gormley said. “Of course, personal and family illnesses take a toll occasionally, as well.”

That’s one reason Bainbridge Arts and Crafts volunteer coordinator Wendy Reid likes to keep a large pool of volunteers.

“A lot of us are in the ‘sandwich’ position of having obligations still to an older generation and a younger,” Reid said.

“So if a ‘life cycle event’ should intervene in someone’s volunteer schedule, it’s good to have a large pool to draw from to fill the gap.”

Mary Braden, president of Island Theater, notes that while her retired volunteers may be as busy as any full-time worker, their hours are more flexible.

Bill Edmonds, who moved to Bainbridge in 1991 after 42 years as an educator and publisher in Turkey and has since volunteered for more than a dozen island organizations, says that one challenge for volunteers can be discerning when to make way for “new blood.”

“You need to know when to bow out gracefully from a volunteer position,” Edmonds said. “Don’t hang on just because you think you’re making a contribution.”

Volunteer coordinators and directors note that the retired volunteer often prefers to help in areas unrelated to a former career.

“Speaking personally, after a long (continuing) career in public relations/marketing/volunteer management, I am most happy pounding nails for Habitat for Humanity,” Gormley said.

While a few note a decline in volunteerism, most believe that Bainbridge has more than its share of volunteers.

“I came to Bainbridge from a place that was 95 percent subdivisions,” Goldberg said. “The difference here is, people care.

“You might look at it negatively, that they argue too much about things like the roundabout, but they care about their environment and they contribute, whether they are young or old.”

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