Boomers fight boredom with volunteering

Garry Lawrence heading to fix a sign at his church (Photo by: Zach Armenta/ Arizona Sonora News)
Garry Lawrence heading to fix a sign at his church (Photo by: Zach Armenta/ Arizona Sonora News)

Retirement is a golden dream where you can sleep all day, eat what you want and basically do whatever you feel.

After living the golden dream for about six months, many get bored and look for something to do. What is there to do?

One activity  is to volunteer. And with 77 million baby boomers retiring or heading that way, the number of volunteers could soon grow.

Garry Lawrence, 64,  got bored six months into retirement and started to volunteer at Biosphere 2 and Mountain Shadows Presbyterian Church.

“I moved out to Oro Valley area in August of 2013, and the idea was just to retire, not to do a whole lot of anything,” Lawrence said. “Well, within six months, I’m going absolutely crazy and bonkers. I need to do something at some place.”

At his church, he is part of the facilities group and does just about anything, ranging from simple fixer-uppers to making hand railings and a ramp. At Biosphere 2, he participates in the marine-area building and fixing experiments.

Lawrence has been volunteering for three years. He picked Biosphere 2 after taking a tour with his daughter and noticed they had a volunteer program.

“I thought, uh, let’s give it a try and see what happens.”

Nationally, 62.8 million people volunteered in 2014, compared to 61.2 million in 2006, according to Corporation for National & Community Service, an independent federal agency. In Arizona, only 1.19 million of 6.731 million people volunteered in 2014, ranking the state 41st.

Garry Lawrence looking for the screws to remove (Photo by: Zach Armenta/ Arizona Sonora News)
Garry Lawrence looking for the screws to remove (Photo by: Zach Armenta/ Arizona Sonora News)

Of the 77 million baby boomers in 2014, about 19.9 million volunteered, or 26 percent. When it came to volunteer activities, the top two were religious and social service.

Ages 45-54 saw 14.3 percent people volunteer in 2014, with the 55-64 group at 13.2 percent and 65-74 at 13.4 percent. Religion and educational volunteer activities were the two most for overall volunteering.

Paul Sherwood, 70, has been volunteering for three weeks at Biosphere 2. Before moving to Arizona, he and his wife had an interior design business at a retail store. He also does a couple volunteering activities at Sun City.

He retired last May when his wife sold her business in North Carolina. After looking at other states, they decided on moving to Arizona when a friend suggested it.

Some baby boomers don’t volunteer because they haven’t retired yet. According to, as of March 2016 there are 122.52 million people working full-time jobs. The population for the United States is an estimated 322.76 million. That means about 38 percent of people are working full-time jobs.

For boomers who decide to retire, many are using the internet to find volunteer opportunities.

Kate Corcoran at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Photo by: Zach Armenta/Arizona Sonora News)
Kate Corcoran at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Photo by: Zach Armenta/Arizona Sonora News)

Kate Corcoran, 70, volunteers at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as a greeter. She has been volunteering for nearly five months. She joined the museum because she needed something positive and uplifting. She signed up for volunteering in the three hours she spends on the internet a day.

“I had seen there were volunteers and docents here when we made our visits,” Corcoran said. “That prompted me to go online to the website, and that’s where I got all my information and signed up.”

Both Lawrence and Sherwood say they spend about 30 hours on the internet a week looking up news, reading books and finances.

Pam Stempson, 71, doesn’t volunteer because she has two children, two grandkids and takes care of her parents and her husband’s parents.

“It feels like a full plate without volunteering outside the family.”

She used to be a part of a service group for about nine years but stopped. The group supported women’s shelters, visited nursing homes, worked in food kitchens, taught environmental education to primary school children and carried out fundraising. She isn’t sure if she will volunteer again, but if she does she wants to help kids.

When looking at the multiple volunteer opportunities for the Desert Museum, there are positions such as docent, guest services, school group assistants, conservation science and research, buffelgrass removal and others.

Online applications ask the basic questions of name, age, contact information, address and if you volunteered before. They also ask candidates when they are available and what volunteer jobs they would prefer.

On the second page, the applications ask about education levels, hobbies, computer software experience, and whether they are working full-time or part-time. The last page is for signatures.

Sherwood volunteers as a way to give back to society. When asked why he thinks other baby boomers don’t volunteer, he had a simple answer.

“I think that a lot of people are more focused on themselves,” he said.

Click here for high resolution photos.  

Zach Armenta is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at

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