Judy Shue: Volunteering in retirement
Anticipation, nostalgia, anxiety and a bit of panic washed through my mind as I submitted my letter of retirement. I had fourteen months to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
I was truly at a transition point. My children were settled in homes of their own. My grandchildren were entering or nearing their teenage years when spending time with grandma wouldn’t be quite as appealing as it had been during their younger years. My parents had both passed away. So I began to consider my options and pray for direction for my future.
Although I love rocking chairs, I wasn’t quite ready to relegate myself to one. I had plenty of home projects and hobbies, but they didn’t seem to offer the fulfillment I desired. I wasn’t interested in scheduling a parade of “Let’s do lunch” dates on my calendar. I had no desire to volunteer in the local rural school district where I had been employed for more than 30 years. There were plenty of charities in nearby cities that could use my time, but the commute would only be feasible occasionally. Although I wanted an opportunity to share my faith, I didn’t feel inclined to take on an overseas mission experience.
I recalled a contribution request I had received from a Christian organization in Appalachia some months before. I thought I had saved it, but I couldn’t find it. Then a second donation request letter from the organization arrived. I investigated the Christian Appalachian Project and the more I learned about it, the more interested I became. The Project was a volunteer-based organization that provided those who came to serve with housing and some other benefits. I prepared an application and told my family of my potential plans.
A year after submitting my retirement letter, I found myself in Kentucky as a prospective volunteer for the Christian Appalachian Project. There were several programs that interested me – adult education, the Child and Family Development Center and the Elderly Services Program. After three days of exploration, I headed home to contemplate and pray for guidance. I seemed to be drawn to the Elderly Services Program. CAP agreed that would be a fit, so I began arranging my personal affairs to accommodate a mid-August arrival in Kentucky.
I’m now halfway through my term of service. I love my forty some elderly participants. I’m glad I can relieve some of their anxieties by being available to help with errands and transportation. I’m happy to lend a listening ear and join in a time of prayer for their needs. Most delightful are my visits when I listen to their stories of their hard work, their joys and trials and their love of their beautiful Appalachian Mountains.
The greatest challenge of the experience has been community living with nine other volunteers. It’s been a long time since my college dorm days, and some aspects of that type of life are disconcerting. However, I cherish my new twenty-something housemates. They challenge me to serve wholeheartedly and reassure me that the future of society is in caring, capable and committed hands. I’ve formed lasting friendships with several other volunteers who are more my age.
In a few months I’ll be going home, but I have plans to return to Kentucky for several months in the fall. While my future terms of service may be shorter, a part of my heart will forever remain in Appalachia.
This essay was written by Judy Shue, a long-term volunteer in CAP’s Elderly Services Program