The joy of volunteering in retirement

As a middle school music director for 33 years, Dick Schirmacher learned to be energetic and have a sense of humor. “When you teach junior high, you have to know how to survive,” jokes Schirmacher. “In teaching you have to be complimentary and encouraging. I was more of an encourager than a director.”

Now in retirement, Schirmacher carries over that enthusiasm to his weekly volunteering at Good Samaritan Society Specialty Care Community in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. Schirmacher plays the piano and helps put music together for the chapel service. He also spends time with residents with Huntington’s disease, a debilitating, hereditary disease that affects the brain and has no cure.

Schirmacher spends a lot of his time with a young Huntington’s patient named Tony. On Mondays and Fridays in the summer, he wheels Tony to the Dairy Queen three blocks away. Schirmacher orders the “Tony Special” for Tony, a medium pureed chocolate blizzard. When they have finished their ice cream, they say goodbye to Turell, a Dairy Queen employee who has become a friend. Tony gives Turell a fist bump and says thanks. In the winter when the Dairy Queen isn’t open, Schirmacher brings ice cream from home and he and Tony watch sports videos or music videos together while enjoying their treat.

Schirmacher says he has been surprised by the tremendous joy he has felt being part of the chapel service. “Normally you think chapel services are long and boring but not at all. Mike [the music therapist] and I have been able to create fun, dynamic things musically and that has been a real surprise to see what music can do and how much joy it can bring. The families many times come and they enter into it. The volunteers who come, they get up and dance and sway around. It’s a celebration.” At the end of each service, “This Little Light of Mine” is played and rhythm instruments are given out so everyone can participate.

“You never know how God works. Maybe we don’t see it registered, but our minds are too finite to know what He can do. It’s fun but also a real joy and privilege. We got a great team over there.”

It can be difficult for Schirmacher to watch the health of residents decline, but he strives to keep a positive spirit. “One of my joys and ‘jobs’ is to hug. Why not? It’s free!”

For retirees considering volunteering, Schirmacher advises to just try it. “Maybe you like to read—find a place to do that. Maybe you can go feed somebody at lunch time. Find your niche and then enjoy it—whatever your talent is, whatever you’re comfortable doing. You may have to go to several different places and see if it fits. If it fits, ask what you can do, then do it with abandon, do it with hugs, do it with love, do it with a sense of enthusiasm and wait for the results.”

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