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These books focus on aging, growing, or giving.

Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time
by Michael Perry

Perry, who, like me, grew up on a farm outside a small town in west central Wisconsin, writes about his experiences on the volunteer rescue squad. Funny and heartbreaking, it is a tale about living in and serving a community.

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher
by Sue Halpern

Warning: If you don’t have a dog, you’ll want one. If you have a dog, you’ll want to train it to be a therapy dog. Halpern shares what she learned over three years from taking her Labradoodle to visit patients in a nursing home. The book is about the unexpected gifts of volunteering.

A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety
by Jimmy Carter

President Carter got fired by American voters when he was 56. Then he and Rosalynn went on to do some of their most important work through the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity. He’s written 29 books to help fund his efforts. In this one, he chronicles his life and reflects on what went well and what he would change. You might also want to check out his 1998 book, The Virtues of Aging.

What Makes Olga Run? The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives
by Bruce Grierson

This book will inspire you to stand up and move. Grierson follows Olga Kotelko as she trains and competes in track and field, trying to “unlock the secrets behind her remarkable success and graceful aging.” He weaves Olga’s story with research on aging and exercise. It is also a fun introduction to the Senior Games.

by Carol Dweck

Mindset might be the best book I’ve read in 10 years. It changed the way I think about what’s possible. Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, studies success. She discovered that there is a huge difference between people who believe “I can’t do that” and people who believe “I can’t do that yet.” Read this book, and rethink what is possible in retirement. Then pass it on to the parents, teachers, and coaches in your life.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
by Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert’s musings on living a creative life reads like she is sitting in the chair next to you, offering advice. If you have an idea that revisits you—an idea to make something, build something, attempt something—read this book. I love her distinction between being a genius and having a genius, shared in this TED talk.

The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times
by Stephen G. Post

Post, a professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University¸ studies altruism, compassion, and love. In this book he shares his story of how helping others eased the pain of a difficult career move.

How Then Shall We Live?: Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives
by Wayne Muller

This is the book I carried when I hiked a portion of the Road to Santiago—a medieval pilgrimage route through northern Spain. It proved to be a perfect companion. It asks: Who am I? What do I love? How shall I live, knowing I will die? What is my gift to the family of the earth?

Something to Live For: Finding Your Way in the Second Half of Life
by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro

Leider and Shapiro, leaders in guiding people to purpose, suggest that individual fulfillment comes from both savoring the world and saving the world.

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World
by Bob Goff

Bob Goff’s life is incredible and, in many ways, hard to relate to. He made enough money as a lawyer to do anything he wants, including building a house in British Columbia that can only be accessed by plane or boat. He founded Love Does, a nonprofit that now serves kids in five countries. He is also on the national Christian speaker circuit. He is so darn down to earth, enthusiastic, and fun, that he is contagious. In his book, Goff encourages us to take action to support the things we love.

Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others
by Bill McMillon, Doug Cutchins, and Anne Geissinger

This resource guide provides information on over 100 organizations that run volunteer vacations. It is a great place to get ideas for where you might go and what you might do.

Volunteer: A Traveller’s Guide to Making a Difference Around the World
by Lonely Planet

Here’s another resource guide listing international volunteer programs. It lists offerings with 159 organizations in 130 countries.

The Voluntourist
by Ken Budd

After his dad died, Budd questioned whether he was making a difference. He started volunteering around the world. The book chronicles six trips to different countries to work on six very different projects. “One life. That’s all we get,” is his refrain.

The Encore Career Handbook
by Marci Alboher

If you want to be paid for your next contribution, check out this guide. It focuses on “how to make a living and a difference in the second half of life.”

The Upside of Aging: How Long Life Is Changing the World of Health, Work, Innovation, Policy and Purpose
by Paul Irving

Each chapter, written by a different leading thinker, examines this paradox: “While researchers and physicians are successfully extending life, our policies, expectations, and norms reflect a very different set of values. Longevity—possibly the most important development in human history—is considered a burden.”

The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life
by Piero Ferrucci

Ferrucci explores forms of kindness, like warmth, forgiveness, patience, and respect. He sums the book in the final paragraph: “Strange perhaps, and paradoxical, but true: The most sensible way to further our own interests, to find our own freedom, and to glimpse our own happiness, is often not to pursue these goals directly, but to look after other people’s interests, to help other people be freer from fear and pain, to contribute to their happiness. Ultimately, it is all very simple. There is no choice between being kind to others and being kind to ourselves. It is the same thing.”

The Healing Power of Doing Good
by Allan Luks and Peggy Payne

Luks is the guy who coined the term “helpers high” for those feel-good sensations we get when we help someone. The book shares the results of his study of 3000 people that focused on the mental and physical health benefits of volunteering. If a new drug provided the same health benefits as helping others, every doctor would prescribe it.

Secrets of Becoming a Late Bloomer: Staying Creative, Aware, and Involved in Midlife and Beyond
by Connie Goldman and Richard Mahler

This book is about personal growth and transformation. The authors share secrets related to 14 topics, like attitude, risk taking, and humor. The book is packed with stories about late bloomers and each chapters end with tips on how to take action.


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Here are searchable websites that list volunteer opportunities:

  • features local and virtual volunteer opportunities.
  • All for Good is a Points of Light national database, searchable by zip code. It includes HandsOn networks.
  • lists local, state, and Federal volunteer positions with government organizations that support America’s natural and cultural resources, like the National Park Service and the National Forest Service.
  • The Corporation for National and Community Service includes AmeriCorps and Senior Corps opportunities.
  • Earthwatch Institute offers volunteer vacations to support science.
  • Create the Good is AARP’s volunteer site.
  • Idealist Over 100,000 organizations post job and volunteer opportunities on
  • Catchafire connects pro-bono professionals with organizations that do good.
  • Skills for Change features short-term online projects.
  • United Way focuses on education, financial stability, and health.


Here are websites about international work or volunteering:


These opportunities may include stipends and other financial benefits:

  • Experience Corps volunteers tutor K-3 students in reading. AARP runs this program in some cities in the US.
  • Reading Corps volunteers help kids from age 3 to grade 3 learn to read at grade level. Tutors commit to at least a year of service and receive rigorous training plus ongoing coaching.
  • Foster Grandparents serve as “role models, mentors, and friends to children with exceptional needs.” To find a program in your area, Google your county, state, and “Foster Grandparents.”
  • Senior Companions provide assistance to seniors who need a little help.
    To find a program in your area, Google your county, state, and “Senior Companions.”
  • Peace Corps now has several options. There is the traditional two-year commitment. But they also have shorter-term opportunities through Peace Corps Response and Global Health Service Partnership
  • AmeriCorps VISTA offers yearlong full-, part-time, and summer associate positions. Projects vary but have included leading conservation efforts, teaching kids about robotics, providing support to veterans, and managing Habitat for Humanity crews. You can learn about the benefits here.


These organizations will help you find a good fit for volunteering:

  • RSVP is one of the largest volunteer networks for people 55 and over. It has coordinators who will personally help you match your interests to a local volunteer opportunity. To find a program in your area, Google your County, State, and “RSVP.”
  • Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVS) matches volunteers over 50 with opportunities to work with people who are poor and to grow in Ignatian (Jesuit) spirituality, which is geared toward action.
  • To find a local volunteer center:
    • Check the HandsOn Network
    • Google “Volunteer Center” and the name of your town and state


These are inspirational websites:


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These are inspiring documentaries about living fully:

Luther Metke at 94
This short film was nominated for an Academy Award in 1980. In it, Mr. Metke teaches a young couple to build a log cabin, recites his own poetry, and gives advice about aging. He started writing poetry in his 80s to communicate with his grandchildren. Here is a bit of his advice: “It isn’t what we have, it isn’t what we know. The only thing that matters, is the ‘good will’ seeds we sow.”

The Lady in Number 6
“109 year-old Alice Herz Sommer shares her views on how to live a long and happy life.”

Bill Cunningham New York
Bill Cunningham photographed fashion for the New York Times, but you don’t have to love clothes to love this film.

Seymour: An Introduction
A lovely film about Seymour Bernstein, who at age 50 ended a career as a concert pianist to start a career as a piano teacher. It is a joy to watch.