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Trying to Help

Saturday, May 26, 2018

I volunteer. A little. Volunteering one's time doing thing similar to what one was formerly paid to do, seems to be a common feature of retirement. Most of my volunteer work began after I retired. My motives are a little fuzzy. So are the benefits.

A while ago I did some volunteer tutoring in English and science for a middle school student in a program managed by the city school district. Two semesters. The student was a pretty independent kid who tolerated the lessons, but really didn't see the point of school. His sister was completely different, motivated, and doing very well. She was not in the tutoring program.

In another "teaching" situation, I've been teaching safe driving under AARP auspices for about three years now. Several classes. These amount to a tremendous amount of work for me - mostly logistic - to get the materials for the courses prepared, work with the people who own the space and keep everyone happy to be involved. Teaching the courses feels high pressure, and after they're done I feel very relieved and very satisfied. Participants are generous with their praise and I look forward to my next classes which will be next month.

For two years I also helped the AARP by providing Tax-Aide services. The AARP will do federal and state tax forms for anyone for free, including free electronic filing, providing the tax situation is not too complicated. I enjoyed those two tax seasons and look forward to future ones.

I also am working at a nearby medical center helping patients use the patient portal the organization provides. The portal is where patients can register, send secure email to their providers, make and check on appointments or order refills of prescriptions and more. The people asking for help with the portal have impressively good computer skills, but the portal software is not all that easy to understand. I find it rewarding to help these folks out and see them feel happy that they've been able to take advantage of the system. Maybe, too, this will help them get the best care possible.

So what are my motives? Not really obvious. For sure, not money.

First, I suppose, is returning to a circumstance that resembles my working career - that is, answering questions for people who ask. I enjoy being a resource. And maybe I'm just showing off a bit. But I do have stuff to offer and I'm happy to offer it, even unpaid.

Second, there's a little bit of a "make the world a better place," going on. At the medical facility, maybe I'm helping folks get better care. In addition I'm trying to determine what it is that people really want from an electronic window on their medical care. What do they hope for from the system? Can the system provide it? Are there additional features the system should provide? The tax work is similar, in a way. The typical client gains a significant monetary benefit - not only lowest taxes, but free filing. I feel that's kind of how things should be, but are not. The commercial world charges a fair amount for tax advice, and typically charges a fair amount to file taxes electronically on a taxpayer's behalf. I enjoy helping people avoid those unnecessary expenses. Teaching safe driving skills, which actually includes consideration of how to get around without driving at all, really makes me feel I'm helping both the course participants and the "world" by maybe reducing the number of crashes or bicycle or pedestrian injuries.

And the benefits - beyond feeling like I'm contributing a bit? It's mostly meeting people I'd never otherwise meet. Gaining a feeling of enjoyment that I was able to help them with something they thought was important. Getting out of the house. Focusing my attention on the wider world and not just on my own problems and how to try to solve them. And, a reason to study, learn, and keep up with things.

So, yes, there's a payoff. This is not actually altruism. The monetary pay is lousy. Nevertheless, I'm continuing. I think it important.
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