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Volunteering a ‘next step’ for active seniors


    Jerry Misiewicz of Bethel Park, Penn., counts bikers and pedestrians as they pass by him along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail near the Hot Metal Bridge in South Oakland. It’s just one of a number of volunteer efforts he’s undertaken, from helping with tax returns to youth sports coach.

It was a few minutes before 10 in the morning and a stifling 86 degrees on the Great Allegheny Passage. Jerry Misiewicz propped a folding lawn chair along the weed-filled hillside. It provided some semblance of shade as trucks roared up a nearby ramp.

Dressed in a white golf shirt and gray shorts, Misiewicz, 67, looked trim and ready to play 18.

Instead, he pulled a clipboard out of a tote bag. Misiewicz is a “counter.” Six times a year, mostly in the warmer months, he and others take two-hour shifts along the trail to register how many, and how often, people run, walk, bike, stroll or exercise their pets.

He’s a volunteer.

McCandless resident Sandy Stein, 65, retired four years ago after 31 years of teaching in special education programs in the North Allegheny School District. After 9/11, she began working with the American Red Cross, first doing office work but now in deployment to help victims of disaster.

“The thing that’s nice about the Red Cross is there are a lot of opportunities for people in whatever they’re willing to do. Maybe they only want to work in an office, maybe just as deployment specialist,” Stein said. “Pretty much any skill set you have.”

She’s a volunteer. As is Bette McDevitt, who spends some evenings in Downtown’s Theater District, ushering patrons before plays. Some of her other days are consumed with work at the Thomas Merton Center, a peace and social justice organization.

Volunteerism takes many forms, and in the case of those in retirement, it can be a fulfilling option in the years ahead.

Misiewicz on this summer day was settled into his spot near the end of the Hot Metal Bridge. He’d spotted a newspaper article a few years back that mentioned volunteers were needed to compile usage numbers.

An accountant, he is particularly suited to the work. Misiewicz was a district manager for H&R Block, and even before his retirement, he helped AARP with its free tax services at local libraries.

“One of the most satisfying things about that is helping people get through a process that is not fun,” he said. “People can be all shook up about their taxes. You get them calmed down.”

He has given his free time to the American Heart Association and as a youth coach in baseball, basketball and softball. Once, on vacation visiting his son, Kevin, in Florida, he helped plant sea grass in Tampa Bay. “We had to put on boots for stingray protection!” he said.

But on this humid morning, he was making a detailed accounting.

He counted not just people, but what they were doing, and in which direction they were headed: north, south, on foot, biking, walking dogs … there was even a rickshaw cyclist.

Another time — and this was technically not on the trail itself, but nearby — someone was out walking a large lizard with a leash and harness. “You never know what you’re going to discover when you’re out and about,” he said.

An avid cyclist, he might bring his bike and when he’s done, go for a ride. He said people often look at him with puzzlement as he sits there, and sometimes they stop to talk.

McDevitt, 84, said she “quit working for money a long time ago. I figured out if I tried to live simply, I’d be OK.” Serving as an usher at various local theaters, she said, “has been a real gift to me,” allowing her to see different productions.

The Grannies, an international, nonviolent protest organization, dress like little old ladies with big, feathered hats. They sing old-fashioned songs with lyrics tweaked to satirize the situation at hand.

“I’d seen (Grannies) perform about 25 years ago, when I was arrested for civil disobedience at a nuclear weapons site in Nevada,” McDevitt said.

“I don’t want to sound self-righteous, but in this case the cause is something you can’t turn away from. It’s not a hobby; it calls to you,” she said.

Stein began volunteering for the Red Cross just after 9/11. Her son was attending college on a military scholarship, and she felt strongly about helping in any way she could. Eventually, the “disaster bug got me,” and she currently works in mass care — sheltering, feeding, distribution of emergency supplies — in the event of a snowstorm, flood, fire or train derailment.

Some of her assignments have been local and simple. Others have involved traveling to other parts of the country or getting up in the middle of the night. Volunteers who are retirees, Stein said, often have the flexibility to pick up and travel on short notice.

In the summer, she tries to keep some weekends free; she’s a member of the Pittsburgh Paddlefish Dragon Boat team. But when she’s not rowing, she’s working on helping others. “I’ve been very fortunate,” she said, “and it was time to pay back that fortune.”

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