Retirement or partial retirement also offers new opportunities to give back.
“Find out what your passion is,” advises therapist turned volunteer and substitute teacher Shirley Davis. “Before we retired, so many of us were stratified in what we had to do to make a living, and it was not always our passion. Now, whatever your passion is, you finally have the opportunity to explore and enjoy it.”
Shirley started out volunteering in her local school district in Idaho, helping the kids with reading. She loved it so much, she signed up as a substitute teacher and teaches K–12, as well as at the technical school.
“I love the energy that the children have,” she says, adding that it’s helped her be a hip grandma too. “It kept me abreast of what was going on with teenagers and preteens – their mode of dress and way of thinking, and the new technology that they’re all introduced to. My grandchildren would say, ‘Nana, how do you know all of this stuff?’”
Shirley has also seen how technology can be a detriment to today’s kids. “The students are so emotionally imploded because of the computer generation. For some of them, it’s an escape mechanism. In my classes, when they’re through with their assignments, I will teach them to play chess. That way they sit across from each other and ask each other questions and begin to interact.”
Davis also comes up with creative assignments that keep their interest, and she acts to help individual students in need.
“There’s a lot of unemployment up here, and the poverty sometimes is quite high,” Shirley says, recalling a Saint Patrick’s Day assignment where the children wrote what they’d do with a pot of gold. “This little girl wrote that she would use it for heat and for food and for a bigger place for the family to live other than a miniature trailer. That brought tears to my eyes.
“The community rallied, and we do have resources to help them.”
Shirley has also taken on the role of grandma to a young man who struggles in school but is willing to work hard and helps his father cut 18 cords of wood each winter for warmth.
“He comes to my house and helps me get firewood ready for the winter and things like that,” she says. Shirley tutors the soon-to-be-middle-school-student and pays him to help around her house. “He works just as hard as a grown man. A lot of times, he comes with no breakfast and holes in his shoes.”
She helps him get things he needs from the local resources, and last summer he earned enough to pay for his school clothes.
“I’m really loving the fact that we’ve bonded, and I can be a mentor to him, and he can see that teachers are normal human beings and that we really care for the students,” Shirley says.
“Absolute love for knowledge, wisdom, education and the children motivate me. The star being the children. Just seeing them unfold and shine – it’s great to be able to find a motivator for them.”