How I Found Purpose in Retirement

Written by Susan Miller 

Susan Miller, CASA of Jackson County Volunteer

Susan Miller, CASA of Jackson County Volunteer

After I decided on an early retirement, I quickly realized I had plenty more to do (and give) — time, energy, and a desire to help others. I searched for volunteer opportunities online, and found VolunteerMatch. After completing my profile, I was matched with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Jackson County.

In case you aren’t familiar, CASA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to support and promote court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children. Their goal is to provide children with a safe and healthy environment in permanent homes.

My personal interests include a strong desire to help those who cannot help (or speak for) themselves—like children and animals. It’s no wonder VolunteerMatch paired me with CASA.

A CASA’s role is to represent a child’s voice in court. Each CASA gathers information about an appointed case by meeting with the child and relevant adults: teachers, parents, foster parents, physicians, etc. CASAs then listen and identify the child’s needs and make recommendations to the court judge based on them.

Ultimately, CASAs work hard to advocate for the child’s placement and ongoing care in a safe home with recommended programs based on the child’s needs—like educational plans or medical care. CASAs also work with a Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker to coordinate care and placement.

In order to become a CASA, I was required to complete 40 hours of training. After a rigorous background check, I was sworn in by a judge. Becoming a CASA doesn’t necessarily require a tremendous amount of time—many CASAs work full-time, and plenty volunteer through spousal teams—working together to make a difference.

After my application was approved, I started on two cases.

At first, I was a little apprehensive. Would I ask the wrong questions? Are children going to relate to me? Would parents/ foster parents welcome my help? Although I had excellent training, I had never been placed in a situation (or role) this important. Honestly, I was pretty anxious. To my surprise, I quickly established rapport with my assigned children and families.

Many forget: these children have seen or experienced violence or neglect. I found that simply coordinating medical care or just spending time with them has the power to make a tremendous difference. I’ve had so much fun with these kids—riding bikes, going for walks, teaching them how to swim, or participating in epic water balloon fights—you name it.

I hope these memories will endure for them as they will for me. With all this fun, sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I’m volunteering for a greater purpose.

Beyond having fun, there have been serious issues I’ve addressed: coordinating supervised contact with an incarcerated parent, drafting safety plans, working with teachers on educational plans, and/or addressing health problems.

For example, one of my CASA kids had multiple health issues that hadn’t been addressed before his case. I was able to research the issue, consult with a doctor on treatment options, and coordinate the appropriate surgeries. I have been attending his checkups with him ever since.

CASAs of Jackson County have an outstanding reputation, and the judges really respect our opinions and advice. A stellar administrative team and a peer support group support CASAs.

I am struck by the reality that these children were simply born into (or raised in) circumstances that were completely beyond their control. Through no fault of their own, they found themselves at risk, having been neglected, abandoned, or even physically or emotionally abused.

They are paying the price for someone else’s choices. And their needs are greatest. To spend my retirement playing a positive role in a child’s life feels substantive, to say the least.

The late Muhammad Ali once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” VolunteerMatch paired me with this wonderful organization, and I am incredibly grateful for it. Being a CASA and helping these children is so gratifying and powerful that I feel like I’ve paid rent on a penthouse!

Thank you, Susan, for sharing your story! Do you have a volunteer experience to share? Tell us about it!

4 Things Sharks and Volunteers Have in Common

How Volunteers are Like SharksWhen our team first met to discuss how we could be involved with Discovery Communications’ Shark Week, we hoped our followers might ask:

What does volunteering have to do with Shark Week?

After a quick brainstorm and a few laughs, we agreed the best way to spark a conversation about the importance of volunteers and sharks were to connect the two directly. What we found was surprising: we’re not that different after all.

So how are volunteers like sharks, the diverse and powerful creatures of the deep blue sea? Here are four ways.

  1. We’re Endangered

Earlier this year, we analyzed a Bureau of Labor Statistics report on volunteer rates in the United States. The report told us that volunteer rates in the U.S. have been steadily declining for over a decade. In fact, the rate of people who volunteer dropped by nearly 4 percentage points between 2005 and 2015.

We wanted to find the cause, so we took to Twitter to engage our followers in a conversation. Thought leaders, nonprofit representatives, philanthropists and volunteers all weighed in on what they thought some potential causes and possible solutions might be.

Sharks are also disappearing. According to Discovery, scientists have seen crucial populations drop 90% in just one generation. Together, we can pledge to protect sharks and support organizations like Reef Check Foundation and Shark Stewards, who work to preserve and protect our oceans and advocate for policies that promote sustainable fishing practices, respectively.

  1. We Play a Pivotal Role in Society

While the numbers on volunteer rates aren’t promising, our significance in society is undeniable.

Many have posed the question, “What would our world look like without volunteers?” and it isn’t pretty. For one, the estimated $1.6 billion in impact from volunteers who used VolunteerMatch to get involved in 2015 would disappear. Without volunteers giving time, environments around the world would be less prosperous, animal protection initiatives would decline, care for the elderly may diminish, and assistance in times of crisis and need may come become sparse.

As apex predators, sharks play an important role in their society too. They keep our ocean ecosystems healthy and balanced by keeping populations of fish in check. Without sharks, fish would overgraze, destroying large sections of our oceans, and leaving entire ecosystems vulnerable to future threats.

It’s one of many reasons Discovery — alongside Oceana — helped introduce congressional legislation today to ban the sale of shark fins here in the U.S.  Help us help sharks: voice your concern by sending send a letter directly to your representative in support of the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act. Learn more.

  1. We’re Determined

Volunteers are determined to make a difference and leave a positive impact on our communities. With 29 causes and over 118,000 new opportunities posted on VolunteerMatch last year, there’s no shortage to what volunteers can do. And it’s our determination to find a volunteer opportunity with a cause we care about that makes all the difference.

Meanwhile, sharks are surprisingly intelligent creatures. They’re capable of learning, remembering, and even teaching one another. According to Discovery, they’re also curious. Great whites approach and investigate just about any unfamiliar floating object out of curiosity. And when they’re ready to attack their next meal, sharks are determined.

When a shark goes in for the kill, it will move quickly — catching speedy fish with an element of surprise. Sharks can also be found hunting prey all over the world. And like volunteers, some sharks prefer to go the distance alone, while others find strength in numbers.

  1. We Break Stereotypes

Critics say volunteering is for those who have the time, but research shows that volunteering may actually help you save time by adding years to your life. Plus, volunteers often say that they leave their volunteer shift feeling like they’ve gained something in return.

Sharks are also breaking stereotypes. Many think they’re dangerous, but in reality, sharks do not deliberately hunt humans. According to scientists, if a shark attacks a human, it’s typically a case of mistaken identity. And here’s a something we bet you didn’t know: While sharks kill about 6 humans each year, humans kill up to 100 million sharks per year.

What are some ways you think volunteers are like sharks? Share them with us in the comments section below!

A Big Help to Little People

Editor’s Note: VolunteerMatch participates in Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA)’s Corporate Work Study Program. Michelle, one of our ICA volunteers, wrote the following post to share how volunteering has impacted her life.

Guest post by Michelle Fonseca

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The first time I heard this quote was from my University of San Francisco (USF) tutor in middle school. I, at the time, didn’t grasp the deep meaning of the quote. I remember how inspired I was by my USF tutor because of how she had taken time out of her busy life to help me with math homework.

I knew from that moment that when I grew up I wanted to be caring just like her — and I’m not saying this because she gave me ice cream. Above all, I had discovered my passion: to spend my life helping children.

826 Valenica

Outside 826 Valencia, a nonprofit that focuses on providing free services to Bay Area youth.

During my junior year of high school, I was assigned a required service learning project. While some girls were dreading having to volunteer, I, on the other hand, was excited, which is an understatement. I decided to volunteer at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing free services to Bay Area youth, from ages 6-18. My “partner in crime” Sabrina and I decided to volunteer at 826 Valencia’s after school program.

I interviewed my friend Sabrina and the program director Jorge to gain more knowledge on the program and their personal experiences. 

Running a program isn’t easy, but Jorge sure does make it look easy. Jorge has been working at 826 Valencia for many years now. After school programs are where children usually go when parents can’t pick them up right away.

Interview with Jorge:

What makes 826 Valencia’s programs special from other after school programs?

826 Valencia is a place where children have a social space to do their homework — a place where children safely gain knowledge and make new friends. When choosing a job, I think it’s important to love what you do.

Why did you choose to work at 826 Valencia?

I received an art degree in college. I peer tutored my buddies through college. And I resonated with the mission statement from 826 Valencia. As a program director, there is always something new for me to learn.

What have you learned from working with children?

Children are extremely energetic and I have to use my creative side to think of projects that keep them busy after they finish their homework. Being part of a community is one the best things in life because you feel like you are part of a second family.

Is it important to give back to your community?

Absolutely. I believe everyone should give back and help the community, especially if a person once received help from it.

Interview with Sabrina:

826 Valencia Tutors

Inside 826 Valencia

Why did you choose 826 Valencia?

Out of all the places that came to mind, I thought of volunteering at 826 Valencia first, especially since I considered their after school program my second home.

Do you have any special connection to the program?

I technically grew up in this program. It enhanced my academic skills.

How was your experience as a volunteer?

My experience was amazing because I got to know the kids who are the new generation of 826 Valencia. I also saw some old friends from the program that were tutoring just like me and giving back to their community. Little kids could be a handful sometimes.

What have you learned from working with children?

One of the biggest things I learned is to have patience because children are so energetic and can get distracted easily.

Would you recommend volunteering at an after school program?  Why?

Of course! I think it’s great since children always need the extra help, especially since homework is more challenging now than it used to be. Children need an environment other than school and home to do their homework.


During my time volunteering at 826 Valencia, the children’s energy brought back memories to when I was enthusiastic like them. Each of the children I tutored had a different way of learning. Some memorized their vocabulary words by spelling the word out several times. Others by looking at the word once and memorizing it. One thing they had in common is that they each had a drive to learn.

After each time I kept on going to the after school program, I slowly became attached to the children. Whenever they would see me they would jump for joy and rush to hug me.

This experience made me realize the importance of not only giving back to the community but in also being a mentor to children. The future of the world is dependent on children, therefore, it’s important that they obtain an education in order to accomplish amazing things.

Learn more about tutoring, mentorship, and after school program volunteer opportunities in your community by visiting


About the author:
Michelle is very down to earth. She loves root beer and awesome stand-up comedy. She will be heading off to UC Merced for college this fall, and will be making new friends that Moo! She enjoys helping others with a smile on her face, which is why she became part of the ambassadors club at her school.

Michelle wants to pursue a career in social work to help people become aware of the many benefits our world offers.

8 Actions You Can Take to Continue the Energy of National Volunteer Week

Happy National Volunteer Week! Throughout the week, we’ve been celebrating the amazing people who volunteer and make volunteerism possible by sharing easy ways to listen, learn, inspire, and act!

Up today: Act. As #NVW2016 comes to a close, we want to leave you with a variety of actions you can take to carry the energy of National Volunteer Week with you into the future. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Surprise Your Volunteers With Unexpected Recognition

Imagine you’re a volunteer, walking into your nonprofit’s office for a normal shift, on a random day. Greeting you is this:

VolunteerMatch's Volunteer Thank You Banner

My guess is you’d feel pretty special, right? Surprising your volunteers in unexpected ways can create excitement and foster a culture of appreciation.

Do you engage virtual volunteers? Send them a picture instead!

  1. Add Skills to Your VolunteerMatch Opportunities

Add Skills to Your VolunteerMatch listingsWhat types of skills do you seek for volunteers at your organization? Tag your VolunteerMatch opportunities with skills, and they’ll automatically get pushed to LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace for added visibility.

  1. Text to Volunteer

Did you know potential volunteers can now find your volunteer opportunities via text? Give it a try yourself and find new opportunities near you. Simply text your ZIP code to (314) 282-8630 – it’s free!

  1. Treat Yourself

For International Volunteer Managers Day, we put together a list of ways to treat yourself. You don’t have to save this all for one day … make yourself feel special throughout the year!

  1. Give the Gift of Knowledge

Do you have friends, family, or coworkers who are also interested in volunteering? Share your passion with them by gifting them a copy of Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World. The book contains chapters from 35 industry experts, who highlight the latest trends in volunteerism and volunteer engagement, including shifts in strategy, technology, relationships, and more.

  1. Assess Your Program

With support from ConAgra Foods Foundation, VolunteerMatch has created a tool to help volunteer managers assess and improve their volunteer engagement programs. Unfortunately, it’s only available for hunger-fighting organizations right now, but if that’s you, you can evaluate your program today!

  1. Sign up for a Google AdWords Grant

If your nonprofit is not taking advantage of its Google AdWords Grant, it’s not too late to start! If optimized correctly, Google AdWords can be an effective, free tool for leveraging visibility for your volunteer program. Learn more.

  1. Do It Now: Say Thanks!

You can never say “Thank You” enough. To close out National Volunteer Week, do this right now: Find a pen and paper, click “compose message”, or pick up the phone, and tell a volunteer just how much their work matters.

Thanks for following along with us this National Volunteer Week. Together, let’s carry the energy of this week into the future.

Inspire Your Volunteers With These 18 Famous Quotes

We hope you’re enjoying National Volunteer Week! Here at VolunteerMatch, we’re eager to continue celebrating #NVW2016 by honoring the volunteers and people who make volunteering possible — you! Throughout the week, we’re providing fodder for your celebrations by sharing simple ways to listen, learn, inspire, and act.

Quotes to Inspire Your VolunteersIn today’s post, we’re highlighting ways to inspire your volunteers — through bite-sized, inspirational quotes you can share with your networks to encourage them to get out and volunteer. Here are some of our favorites.

(Quotes with a tweetable number of characters have a link – simply click the quote to share inspiration with your Twitter followers!)

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” — Muhammad Ali

Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” — Elizabeth Andrew

“If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.” — Kofi Annan

What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.” — Aristotle

We have to do what we can to help wherever and whenever it is possible for us to help.” — Jackie Chan

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill

If compassion was the motivating factor behind all of our decisions, would our world not be a completely different place?” — Sheryl Crow

Only a life lived for others is worth living.” — Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“Whatever community organization, whether it’s a women’s organization, or fighting for racial justice … you will get satisfaction out of doing something to give back to the community that you never get in any other way.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

If every American donated five hours a week, it would equal the labor of twenty million full-time volunteers.” — Whoopi Goldberg

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands — one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” — Audrey Hepburn

Quotes to Inspire Your VolunteersI believe that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.” — Thomas Jefferson

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.” — Helen Keller

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Our generation has the ability and the responsibility to make our ever-more connected world a more hopeful, stable and peaceful place.” — Natalie Portman

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” — William Shakespeare

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” — Unknown

Have a favorite quote about volunteering? Share it with us in the comments section below or tweeting to us @VolunteerMatch!