“The intention was to live in Ecuador and travel through South America doing the retirement thing,” he said. “Well, I became absolutely bored. I don’t speak Spanish well enough to assimilate and walking up and down the beaches seemed unproductive.”
So seven months after setting up stakes abroad, Mr. Crumley, now 69, and his wife, Ann, 53, moved back to the United States and settled in Tampa, Fla. She headed into the work force selling residential real estate, but Mr. Crumley was not certain what to do with himself.
At his wife’s suggestion, he joined a nearby Rotary Cub. “ ‘It will make you feel like you’re doing more than taking up space,’ she told me,” Mr. Crumley said.
Older volunteers like Mr. Crumley are on the rise, as Americans live longer and are healthier. In 2013, 24.2 percent of Americans over 65, 10.6 million people, did some type of volunteer work, up from 22.7 percent in 2002, and that number is expected to rise to more than 13 million by 2020, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that administers large national volunteer programs such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
Responding to that spirit, old-line volunteer organizations like Rotary and the Peace Corps are stepping in to deliver opportunities for retirees to stay connected and give back.
“Rotary was the original social network,” said John Hewko, general secretary of Rotary International, later adding, “way before Facebook.” He said, “From its start, Rotary meetings have been an occasion for people to get together and exchange ideas, discuss critical issues happening in their community, things happening globally and to take action.”
It is still going strong. The 110-year-old organization, which was founded in Chicago, has 1.2 million members in 34,000 clubs in 200 countries and other geographical locations, and 28 percent of those members are retired and active in the group. In the United States and Canada, 26 percent of Rotarians are between 60 and 69 — nearing or at retirement age — up from 24 percent in 2009 and 21 percent in 2006.
“We have Rotarians in their 70s and 80s traveling to Nigeria to work on polio and traveling to Bolivia to work on a water project,” Mr. Hewko said. “For our retiree members, it’s incredibly important to stay engaged with people, to be out and about, and to be giving back.”
Like Rotary, the Peace Corps is also working to enlist older American volunteers. The corps, established in 1961 by an executive order signed by President John F. Kennedy, is still predominantly a younger person’s game, but 7 percent of its volunteers are 50 or older. “I would like to see that closer to 15 percent,” said Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the Peace Corps’ director.
The push for older volunteers began in 2011, when the Peace Corps began working with AARP to connect more older volunteers with service opportunities. Then, in 2012, it expanded Peace Corps Response, a program that may be more appealing to older adults because it requires a shorter time commitment, three months to a year instead of the traditional 27-month commitment.
The program had been open only to Peace Corps veterans, but now anyone with at least 10 years of work experience and the needed language skills may apply. In the 2014 fiscal year, more than a third of people who applied for Peace Corps Response positions were 50 and older.
While the medical evaluation process is the same regardless of an applicant’s age, depending on medical history, it can take longer for an older volunteer to be accepted. “We only place our older volunteers where we are certain we can medically support them, so there may also be a slightly smaller list of countries you can consider,” said Ms. Hessler-Radelet.
All Peace Corps volunteers receive comprehensive medical and dental benefits during service. Financial benefits include paid travel to and from the country of service, living expenses, vacation days and a readjustment allowance upon completion of service that can amount to thousands of dollars.
Married couples may serve in the Peace Corps together, but each person must apply and qualify as a volunteer separately. John Granger and his wife, Kate Burrus, from Eugene, Ore., both 64 and retired teachers, recently finished their second assignment with the organization.
“We really felt that we had a lot of experience to offer and wanted to share it in a way that could make a difference,” Mr. Granger said. “At the same time, we wanted to travel, to live in another culture and experience a much simpler lifestyle.”
On their first Peace Corps assignment, they taught English in Chongqing, China, from 2009 to 2012. Then they worked at a small primary school in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica. “We were each assigned to a small primary school, and our assignment focused on working with students needing extra instruction in reading,” Mr. Granger said.
In Rotary, the retiree volunteer story is similar. Myriad volunteer projects give retirees outlets for their professional skills; for example, mentoring budding entrepreneurs, tutoring children or working on disease prevention.
In the United States, average annual club dues are around $400, with some clubs including meals in their costs. (Rotary members generally meet over a meal.)
Peggy Halderman, 66, joined Rotary in Golden, Colo., after she retired from her job as assistant regional director for external affairs at the National Park Service. “My husband has been a Rotarian since about 1991, so I always helped out on all sorts of projects with his Golden Rotary Club,” she said.
The club has a philosophy of “find your passion” and, once a member has developed a project, Rotary provides volunteers and financial support, Ms. Halderman said. “So, I saw a blank canvas.” She said she “had no idea what the future would bring, but knew that now was the time for me to contribute in my own backyard.”
Her project was fighting childhood hunger through the Golden Backpack Program, which initially delivered lunches in backpacks. Now in its seventh year, the program has raised more than $450,000 from Rotary and other sources and has served more than 350,000 meals to needy children in the Golden area. “To see the sheer joy on the faces of little kids when they get their weekly sacks of food,” Ms. Halderman said, is “all our amazing volunteer team needs.”