July 1, 2019
Written by Meghan Marsden Parsche, United Way volunteer blogger
Many people end up using skills they developed in their careers by volunteering in retirement. But for Gary Sprong, it was a desire to learn something new in retirement that inspired him to volunteer.
Gary’s first experience with United Way was not as a volunteer, but as a recipient of services. When Gary was 18, his mother passed away, leaving his father to raise eight children alone.
A United Way agency sent a person to help with the children and run the household. That person had a lifelong impact on Gary and his siblings, who kept in touch with her for many years. Some of them even invited her to their weddings.
Because of this experience, Gary didn’t hesitate to participate when his company, A.O. Smith, asked employees to donate through their employee giving program.
After retirement, Gary started volunteering for the AARP, where he was able to hone his tax preparation skills as a volunteer with their Tax Aid Program.
“My wife didn’t trust my tax preparation abilities, so by volunteering, I received training and became an IRS certified tax preparer,” he says.
Volunteering with the AARP reconnected him with United Way through a joint project. It was a shared event where volunteers packed survival kits, which were passed out around the city to places like senior centers.
Inspired by the local nature of the survival kit event and the nice people he met from United Way, Gary signed up to help with Project Homeless Connect, an annual United Way event. The purpose of the event is to remove service barriers for people experiencing homelessness and make the connection to resources easy by bringing various organizations under one roof to provide resources free of charge.
Project Homeless Connect turned out to be a life-changing experience for Gary.
While volunteering, Gary met a man who lost his job when he was just three years from retirement. No one would hire the man because of his age, so he fell into financial difficulty, eventually becoming homeless.
“I learned that most people who are homeless are victims of bad luck and timing,” he says. “By getting to know a homeless person, I was able to better understand them and the challenges they face. I was lucky that life fell into place and generally went pretty smoothly for me. It doesn’t happen that way for everyone.”
The more he has learned about United Way and its impact on the community, the more involved Gary has become. Today he is a member of Retire United and serves on the retiree advisory committee, and the public policy and advocacy committee.
“I really enjoy volunteering more than I ever did working,” he says. “I never felt very connected to the community working in a factory, but as a volunteer, I’m constantly gaining new insights about the impact United Way agencies have on our community.”
Gary hopes to inspire other retirees to consider joining Retire United.
“Whether you want to continue doing something you enjoyed while working or want to learn something new, United Way has so many opportunities to choose from,” he says.
Join Gary and Retire United at their upcoming Day of Service to sort and pack school supplies for local students. Learn more and register to attend.
United Way volunteer opportunities range from weekly commitments to one-time events, and some can even be done from home. Browse all opportunities.
Meghan Marsden Parsche is a proud United Way supporter, stay at home mom to her four young children, and volunteer writer for United Way. Meghan enjoys telling the stories of the programs and people making a positive impact on our community.