“Mentors, mediators, monitors, motivators and mobilizers,” that’s what the late Maggie Kuhn (of Gray Panthers fame) envisioned as the role of those who no longer hold full-time paying jobs. It’s a tall order. But thanks to millions of older adults already offering their time and expertise, and the estimated 78 million who will be leaving the full-time workforce over the coming years, that tall order can be filled. Using the knowledge, skills and wisdom developed over a lifetime of full-time work and personal experience, they are well positioned to take on the roles Kuhn envisioned.

Older adults can use these talents to find ways to meld old and new interests into civic activities that will give them a renewed sense of purpose and usefulness. At the same time, they will be engaging in lifelong learning because all their senses are involved in helping to enhance society and make it a better place for all generations. And in so doing, their later years will be greatly enriched far beyond anything they might have thought possible.

Meaningful community service, however, is different for each person. It’s all about engaging in whatever endeavor makes one feel complete and useful. It’s all about whatever activity enriches and stimulates a life. With that in mind, here are twelve easy ways to keep learning through community service.

1. Learn how to teach reading to adults. Then become a volunteer tutor in your community.
2. Become a surrogate grandparent to students in after-school or day-care programs.
3. Raise money for local non-profits.
4. Sit on boards of local organizations.
5. Work in soup kitchens & food pantries. Deliver Meals on Wheels or take part in food drives.
6. Offer your services to local museums, churches, libraries or civic venues.
7. Read for the blind & dyslexic.
8. Volunteer to take part in neighborhood safety watches.
9. Join a fraternal organization or community club.
10. Help out in neighborhood parks, youth organizations, & with sports teams.
11. Volunteer at a shelter for battered women & children, or answer “Help” lines.
12. Take part in Drug Awareness programs.

As one lifelong learner says, “I am 85 years old and I’m still learning. As a volunteer I work with the disadvantaged from all ages and races and walks of life. It has opened my eyes and my mind, making me more aware of the problems of others.”

Author's Bio: 

Nancy Merz Nordstrom, M. Ed., is the author of “Learning Later, Living Greater: The Secret for Making the Most of Your After-50 Years,” recently published by Sentient Publications in Boulder, Colorado.

“Learning Later, Living Greater” introduces readers to the ideas and benefits of later-life learning. It challenges people to become involved in meaningful new avenues of productivity: learning for the sheer joy of learning something new, educational travel, volunteerism, civic action, and more. It shows them how to stay mentally and spiritually young. “Learning Later, Living Greater” is the guidebook for transforming the after-work years into a richly-satisfying period of personal growth and social involvement.

Nancy also directs the Elderhostel Institute Network for Elderhostel, Inc., North America's largest educational travel organization for older adults. She provides resources and facilitates communication among more than 370 Lifelong Learning programs across the US and Canada, and develops links between these programs and similar programs in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. She has also worked closely with developers establishing lifelong learning programs in Japan.

Nancy has been interviewed extensively by the media about the learning in retirement movement. These interviews have appeared in many newspapers and periodicals, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post. Nancy also appeared on the CNN Financial News Network show "Your Money."

Prior to working with Elderhostel, Nancy spent many years in office administration in both the private and non-profit sectors before returning to school at age 51 to earn her M.Ed. in Adult Education.

As a mid-life student she became aware of the opportunities and challenges facing older adults, and has dedicated herself to the belief that lifelong learning is both empowering and life-affirming, regardless of age. “Being back in school made me feel alive, young and vigorous,” she says. “I know first-hand that a stimulating learning environment can make a profound difference in the lives of mature adults.” Imparting the message about the value of lifelong learning for older adults has become Nancy’s passion and her life’s goal.