Does your New Year’s resolution include finding something useful to do with your spare time but you can’t get off the couch or break away from the TV?
Volunteering is one way to give life more meaning.
Take the example of William J. Howe III, 70, who volunteers for Senior Advocates for Generational Equity (SAGE) in Portland.
His experiences may be just the encouragement you need to get started.
In his volunteer efforts, he has made new friends by encouraging others to listen to another person’s point of view, so important in this era of polarization. SAGE citizen conversation groups are happening statewide.
SAGE is a nonprofit founded by Ward Greene, who was named in 2017 as one of our country’s top attorneys. Greene’s wife found a Greek proverb in a literary magazine that helped form the mission: “A society grows great when its elders plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Howe supports volunteering as a way of being pro-active and says it offers socialization at an age when “you are accruing piles of loss.” In his own life, for example, he had just learned of a friend’s serious illness, of others who are sick, living with painful joints, suffering from cancer, and more.
The antidote to this “pile of loss,” when you might feel less energy and are wont to complain, is to find a way to give to others through volunteering.
Howe sees volunteering as a way of giving back.
“Doing something positive for somebody else is energizing,” he says. “Do something with a group. You can always write a check.”
Volunteering to help others results in longer, healthier lives. “You are happier and you sleep better,” Greene says. “When we were young we wanted to make the world a better place, but we’ve consumed too much and frankly we’ve had too short a view.”
The SAGE focus is on education, the environment and economic security; each project furthers these goals.
The citizen program series is small group conversations focused on national trends such as political divisiveness and distrust of people with different political views.
This group actively seeks out opposing opinions to learn and demonstrate how to have a talk without demonizing the other person’s point of view.
“You can’t form a consensus without talk,” Howe says. “Democrats are listening to MSNBC and Republications are listening to FOX. People live in silos. The challenge is how we break this down.”
In one instance, SAGE invited history professor Chris Nichols to provide historical context to today’s issues. Nichols noted that past generations faced with the issue of polarization managed to get “to a better place with examples of how society got through difficult times.”
Another time, SAGE invited researcher Jonathan Haight to speak. He specializes in the topic of polarization and discussed the “why” and “how” of it.
“People have always gravitated to those who share their beliefs,” Howe says. “Each side thinks the other is dishonest and stupid.”
SAGE also manages a program called Bridges for Change in which volunteers work with prisoners who have been released from jail, helping them overcome addictions, and find housing and jobs. “They are unbelievably grateful,” Howe says, “and some of the mentors are former prisoners.”
Volunteers at SAGE range in age from 17 to 90, but one in three are 50 plus.
“I have met so many interesting people through this volunteer activity I would never have met,” Howe says. “I’ve seen people who go and have dinner with someone with whom they disagree. We are doing something that makes me feel we are moving politically in a better way, like we are starting to act like adults.”
What he likes about SAGE is that the organization is open to new ideas.
“You go to them, SAGE says ‘Tell us what you want to do,’ and then they will help make it happen,” Howe says. “Their website tells about other ongoing projects and how to get involved. One such project came from someone who wanted to create a green space and was assisted in this regard.”
Howe says another benefit of joining and working with volunteer groups is developing relationships with people with whom you don’t normally socialize because people tend to be with those who share their interests.
“Trust develops and then you trust the person,” he says. For him it has meant new clients at his family law group, GevurtzMenashe P.C., that has since added estate law to its specialties.
“Giving back is good for your soul,” Howe says. “In our culture we don’t honor our elders and this is a way to stay engaged and share our skills and knowledge. This is our country. We can come through this period of polarization.”
He has served on many organizations and devoted much time to family court reform. He currently serves as president of the Oregon Family Institute. He has been awarded the 2003 pro bono challenge award for donating the highest number of pro bono public service hours by the Oregon State Bar.
He has made over 140 presentations at family law conferences and other venues in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and South Africa, and authored several articles on family law-related matters.
For more information on these and other volunteer opportunities, visit SAGE.com.