Petting a stingray. Watching a Broadway show. Taking a simulated flight. These are just a few of the unique experiences retirees take part in as they volunteer at local institutions. To share your time and talents, a number of nonprofits are offering creative ways to give back to the community.
Saint Louis Zoo
At the Saint Louis Zoo, senior volunteers have the opportunity to interact with kids, animals and the outdoors in a fun-filled, family-friendly environment.
A majority of the zoo’s 1,400 volunteers are seniors, and the organization always is looking for more helping hands, says Elaine Gill, director of volunteer services. “We have volunteers who were teachers, lawyers, doctors and engineers,” she explains. “They come with that educational level, skill and ability, so they benefit the zoo greatly.”
Seniors can serve at a range of animal attractions, from the Stingrays at Caribbean Cove, where guests can pet and feed stingrays; to the Insectarium, which includes a butterfly exhibit; and the Children’s Zoo, featuring chances to interact with guinea pigs to goats. For plant lovers, horticulture volunteers can plant, water, weed and mulch the zoo’s extensive gardens. The gift shop, library and first aid station also need volunteers.
Volunteers who commit to extended training can become docents. The zoo has 220 docents who teach classes, provide tours and help create connections with animals during typically three-hour shifts.
To become a volunteer, seniors must submit an application and attend a required interview and training. To remain an active volunteer, the zoo requires 30 annual hours for general volunteers and 62 annual hours, plus additional training and event attendance, for docents. For more information and an application, visit stlzoo.org or call 781-0900, ext. 4670.
The Magic House
The Magic House is a world of wonder for the young—and the young at heart. So when retirees volunteer, they are passing on their knowledge to the next generation.
The museum, which is continually looking for volunteers to serve its 550,000 annual visitors, has about 20 retired volunteers ranging from their 60s to 80s, with some who have served almost 15 years. “They like the environment of the museum, and they enjoy working with young people,” says Liz Hartman, director of human resources. “It keeps them on their toes.”
Volunteers help kids engage in creative and experimental hands-on learning through an array of museum programs and exhibits, including the Art Studio, educational field trips and special events. There also are some rare opportunities to take part in, such as caring for The Magic House’s model trains; and assisting guests at unique exhibits like the Bubble Room and the Mystery Mezzanine.
The patience and wisdom of the retired volunteers pair well with the museum’s young guests, Hartman notes. “Some moms and dads come in with two or three children, and the senior volunteers can step aside and give extra kids in the group some dedicated time. It’s kind of like being part of the family, and it offers that extra one-on-one attention for the child.”
Interested seniors can submit an application, and those selected will be interviewed and complete an orientation. Volunteers are required to serve at least 30 hours a year. For more information and an application, visit magichouse.org or e-mail email@example.com.
The Fox Theatre
Giving your time to The Fox Theatre also means enjoying the perks of seeing Broadway shows and being part of a St. Louis landmark. “The Fox has a long legacy in St. Louis, at almost 100 years old,” notes Aleece Vogt, director of ushers and tours. “Many seniors remember back in the day when it was just showing movies…and they have a great history with it.”
More than 90 percent of the theater's 900 volunteers are seniors who hand out play bills, guide patrons to their seats and help locate any other facilities guests need during performances.
Vogt says many of the volunteers have become lifelong friends. “Volunteering also is a social time for them,” she says. “And they do activities together outside of the theatre, too, such as bowling and going to the casino, the racetrack or The Hill.”
The Fox currently is accepting volunteer applications for weekend performances. For more information and an application, visit fabulousfox.com.
Saint Louis Science Center
Senior volunteers at the Saint Louis Science Center are giving kids ‘light bulb’ moments through hands-on exhibits.
Among the museum’s approximately 500 volunteers, 65 percent are seniors who are former professionals such as educators and engineers. “Our volunteers have a passion for people and for science, especially for STEM education,” explains Halcyone Brown, associate director of volunteers and interns. “They want to share the knowledge someone else shared with them.”
Volunteer opportunities range from leading guests in experiments in the Life Science Lab, discovering dinosaur bones in the dig site and running a flight simulator to participating in Planetarium programs.
The center is in the midst of its busiest time of the year, and welcomes senior volunteer applications, Brown says. “We couldn’t do it without our volunteers.”
For more information and an application, call 289-4412 or visit slsc.org.
Contemporary Art Museum
With an audience of young professionals and families, the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) is a stimulating place for seniors to interact with lively, creative young people.
“CAM is a fun, friendly and welcoming environment. And, because we are a non-collecting museum, we change our exhibitions frequently and have a huge variety of interesting programs,” says David Hartwell, visitor services manager.
Retirees can contribute their time to the museum’s monthly morning Play Dates, annual gala, and evening exhibition-related programs, such as film screenings, concerts and opening receptions. “We are always looking for more volunteers to help out at CAM, and we have a number of different kinds of volunteer opportunities,” Hartwell adds.
For more information and an application, call 535-0770, ext. 212 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.