By Carol Sorgen
When Marian Worthington retired earlier this year, she decided to pursue an idea first sparked on a trip to the Grand Canyon six years ago. At that time, Worthington and a friend had joined a Sierra Club outing as volunteers, working on a revegetation project in Grand Canyon National Park.
“I knew I wanted to do something like that again but on a longer-term basis,” said Worthington, the former director of the office of program budget for the Social Security Administration.
Worthington found what she was looking for this summer, spending three months as a volunteer in the library of the Grand Canyon National Park as part of the National Park Service’s Volunteers-In-Parks program.
In the process, Worthington, who is 55 and lives in Reisterstown, became part of a national trend of senior vacation volunteers.
Trend in Volunteer Vacations
Lee Ann Johnson, managing director of i-to-i, an international volunteer vacation organization, says the “50-plus” bracket represents over 5 percent of the company’s bookings but expects that number to triple in 2005.
“Mature volunteers have expressed the desire for a different and meaningful vacation experience,” said Johnson, “and they have the time and the desire to contribute to a worthwhile cause.” Volunteer vacations, she explains, are ideal opportunities because they allow people to visit a different locale (either domestically or internationally), immerse themselves in a new environment or new culture, and come home with richer experiences than a typical packaged holiday vacation offers.
The American Baby Boom generation represents the largest untapped pool of potential volunteers for the community in recent history, according to AARP in its study, “Experience at Work: Volunteering and Giving Among Americans 50 and Over.” “This is an active, interested, energetic market that needs to be served in the nontraditional vacation sector as well,” said Johnson.
Worthington is an avid outdoors enthusiast so the opportunity to spend time in the Grand Canyon where she could hike, bike, and get to know the area well was an ideal choice.
Variety of Opportunities
Park volunteers are provided with housing-in Worthington’s case, she shared a trailer (which she hastens to say was much nicer than she had anticipated) with another volunteer-as well as a daily stipend for food, and one-way mileage expenses. She worked approximately 35 hours a week in the library, filing new material, answering questions, cataloguing material, and inventorying periodicals. And while she had no experience as a librarian, the attention to detail that she needed during her career in SSA’s Budget Office came in handy.
The library contains only materials relating to the Grand Canyon and has the largest concentration of such information anywhere in the world. “You wouldn’t find these materials anywhere else,” said Worthington, pointing out that there were items dating to the early 19th century.
“It was fascinating to handle all these wonderful things,” said Worthington, “and such an opportunity to learn as much as I could about the Grand Canyon” During her days off, Worthington traveled within the Grand Canyon as well as to points beyond, and also took in events such as a rodeo and a cowboy poetry reading. “I tried to soak up things I couldn’t do at home,” she said.
Worthington found her volunteer vacation to be a “remarkable experience.” She enjoyed living in a small community, especially one with elk and deer wandering through the neighborhood; she was exposed to new ideas that piqued her interest in further study; and she had the opportunity to experience “this awesome natural space.”
“I was making a contribution in a place that has a need and that I value a tremendous amount,” Worthington said, adding that throughout her stay, she thought to herself, “Thank goodness so many of these places have been preserved.”
The Volunteers-In-Parks Program is only one of many such programs for “do-good vacations.” Nancy and Jack Malloy, retired educators who live in Pasadena, have volunteered for two others, Global Volunteers, and Habitat for Humanity. Through Global Volunteers, the Malloys, both in their 60s, spent 16 days in Italy in 2000 teaching conversational English to high school students. The year before they spent a week with Habitat in Charleston, South Carolina, helping build homes for the Gullah community.
Some volunteer vacations, such as those sponsored by Global Volunteers, have a program fee, which may cost up to $2,750, excluding airfare. (Some discounts may be available, and the fee as well as the airfare, are tax-deductible.) There are a variety of service vacations to choose from, including not only teaching English, but child care, tutoring, environmental work, construction, and health care.
Though the Malloy’s had been teachers themselves, that was not a requirement and many of the other members in the group-numbering about 20 altogether-did not have teaching experience.
Their experience in Italy was “inspirational,” said Nancy Malloy. The couple also felt that the trip provided them with an opportunity to teach others about our culture. “We felt like we were ambassadors for the U.S..”
The volunteers were housed at a comfortable inn, and most were within walking distance of their schools.
The Malloy’s have curtailed their traveling for the time being to care for their aging parents, but they are looking forward to more volunteer vacations in the future, perhaps to Greece, and also to work with American Indians. “There’s a lot to do,” said Nancy Malloy.
Annapolis resident Malcolm Fordham, 59, has taken two volunteer vacations this year already, one to the Eagle Tail Mountain Wilderness Area in Arizona and one to the Boundary Water Canoe Wilderness Area in Minnesota. Both trips were sponsored by the American Hiking Society’s Volunteer Vacations Program.
Fordham, who is retired from the military and the computer security industry, now works part-time for REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) as outreach coordinator. He is an active volunteer with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (and was the 2003 winner of the Maryland Volunteer of the Year Award, presented by the American Hiking Society). So, when he heard about AHS’ volunteer vacations, he jumped at the chance to explore new areas, and spend time outdoors with people of similar interests. The nominal cost was also attractive; AHS trips are $100 ($80 for American Hiking members). He had to provide his own transportation and camping equipment (some trips do provide lodging in cabins).
“This is an opportunity for me to give back to the environment so other people can enjoy it as well,” said Fordham, who is already looking forward to planning his next trip.
As is Marian Worthington. “I worked hard but I had the opportunity to spend time in such a magnificent place,” she said. “There’s no value I could put on that experience.”
**editors note: we have several stories from Global Volunteer Francoise Yohalem.
Volunteers-In-Parks National Park Service www.nps.gov/volunteer
Global Volunteers www.globalvolunteers.com (800) 487-1074
Volunteer Vacations, American Hiking Society, www.americanhiking.org, (301) 565-6707
Sierra Club Outings, www.sierraclub.com, 415-977-5500
Habitat for Humanity Global Village Program www.habitat.org, (410) 433-9144
World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, www.wwoof.org
Passport in Time, www.passportintime.com, (800) 281-9176
i-to-i 800 985 4864 www.i-to-i.com
Elderhostel (877) 426-8056 www.elderhostel.org