Group Of Helpful Seniors Collecting Litter In Countryside

You can be a valuable volunteer at any age.

You've been in the workforce for decades. You've always wanted to volunteer but never found the time. Or perhaps you've volunteered in small ways such as a holiday contribution to the Salvation Army Angel Tree or donating a turkey to the local food bank.

But now you are officially retired and ready for a more significant commitment. Don't think twice about volunteering _ jump in with both feet. This is your moment.

Rod Olson, a Colorado author and life coach, says matching your career skills with a volunteer position is a win-win: "People with great skill sets and expertise can still use these skill sets in retirement. ... Volunteering gives you a purpose, makes you part of the team."

Today's volunteers are an essential part of organizations that need their energy, expertise and time. We checked in with five Dallas-Fort Worth residents, all of whom have found ways to enrich their own lives and the organizations and people they serve.

A SEAMLESS TRANSITION

Sandra Malone of Dallas, who is in her 80s, found the transition from paid to unpaid work easy. "The work I did for both were in tandem with each other. Even after I left my paying job, I still worked in the same field, in education and mentoring," she says.

She initially worked as an educator and administrator in the Dallas Independent School District. From 1993 to 2003, Malone worked with longtime U.S. District Judge Harold "Barefoot" Sanders Jr., best known for overseeing the lawsuit to desegregate the DISD. In that role, she was an auditor for desegregation with the title of external schools auditor for federal court. Once the court found the DISD to be in compliance, she retired.

Today, she volunteers primarily with two national organizations, the Links Inc., a group of professional women of color in volunteer work, and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Her jobs have included working at the national level, doing social justice work and registering voters.

Since retiring, Malone has volunteered on executive boards of local organizations and advisory boards at DISD schools. "Volunteering is important to me because it helps me be involved and active in important community issues while helping to make the quality of life better for others," she says.

FOLLOWING HIS BLISS

Noel Campos, 78, retired in 2006 after a career that included 23 years in the U.S. Air Force and 10 years in the aerospace and defense industry. Upon retiring to Fort Worth, Campos began ushering at Bass Performance Hall. He also volunteers weekly in the surgical supply department at Texas Health Huguley Hospital in Burleson, as well as with the City of Burleson Senior Center, driving seniors to their medical appointments.

"I was ready to do something when I retired. And I'm glad I did. No way I want to work for money anymore _ too many rules!" he says.

Campos chose Bass because of his love for musical performances. Ushers "have to stay for the whole performance. Once the lights go out, there are chairs in the back for us to see the performance."

The volunteer gigs make him happy: "I enjoy giving back to the community."

COUPLE TIME

Tom and Rita Chasser, both 74, of Irving volunteer together at the Irving Cares food pantry.

Early in their marriage in Scotland, Rita was a thoracic nurse and Tom worked with an energy company. His job then took them to Bermuda and later the United States, where they eventually landed in Texas. She left the workforce years ago to care for their growing family and because getting a work permit proved difficult. In 2004, Tom retired from his job as a risk and insurance manager with Exxon Mobil.

The couple, married for 50 years, volunteered regularly before retirement.

"When our church, Woodhaven Presbyterian, which has always supported Irving Cares, announced there was a need for more volunteers, Rita and I came forward," Tom says. Every Friday for 14 years, the couple has worked a four-hour shift at the food pantry, distributing groceries to clients and keeping the shelves stocked.

Tom and Rita also volunteer at the Texas Center for Proton Therapy in Irving on Monday mornings. Their three years of service is "part of giving back after Tom's treatment there" for prostate cancer, Rita says.

The Chassers say volunteering has given them joy.

"One of the benefits," says Tom, "is meeting new people with whom we now socialize regularly." Rita adds, "It has given Tom and me separate interests to talk about at the end of the day and the satisfaction of helping others."

HIS HAPPY PLACE

Rod Franz, 69, was a management associate at J.C. Penney, where he worked for 37 years, relocating to the Dallas area when the corporate headquarters moved to Plano in 1986.

Following retirement in 2010, he initially volunteered at a homeless shelter, where he met a couple who shared his interest in gardening. They encouraged him to volunteer at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. "It was the beauty of the gardens that initially drew me to volunteer, but it's the interaction with amazing fellow volunteers, staff and visitors that keeps drawing me back."

Franz, who lives in Sachse, has volunteered at the Arboretum for eight years. He says among the greatest benefits of the Arboretum volunteer job is the opportunity to share life skills.

"For those who enjoy history, there are docent opportunities in the DeGolyer House, the original property owner's mansion. For those who love cooking and food, there are new volunteer positions in the A Tasteful Place vegetable garden and recipe tasting/cooking class pavilion. For those who enjoy meeting people from all over the world, there are tour guide, education department, gift shop, information booth, tram driver, evening concert and holiday event volunteer positions."

EMPLOYEE TO CHEERLEADER

Rena Poletes, 77, of Bedford used to work as a senior sales and service representative with American Airlines.

Poletes left the workforce in 2008 and, like Malone, chose a volunteer job related to her career. She now works a four-hour shift every Tuesday at the C.R. Smith Museum in Fort Worth.

A lifelong lover of museums, Poletes says she knew even as the museum was being built that she wanted to volunteer there. She has been with the museum for 10 years.

When the museum recently reopened after a major renovation, Poletes and other volunteers were on hand. They were treated to a meet-and-greet reception with former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall. "Volunteering there allows the airline atmosphere to stay alive for me," Poletes says.

In addition to her work with the museum, Poletes has been a volunteer in church choirs over the past 65 years. Her current church home is St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Euless, where her late husband, Bill, was the director.

Volunteering, she says, blends well with retirement. She says she adjusted quickly to a more leisurely lifestyle and enjoys not facing the pressures of a regular job.

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