While other retirees head south for the winter to escape snow, sleet and cold, Sue and Dennis Driedger of Winnipeg trade time spent on the golf course for time spent serving others in need.
Whether they’re helping rebuild homes for Mennonite Disaster Service, volunteering at a church camp in Florida each winter, or giving an astounding 40 years of volunteer time to Ten Thousand Villages, building a life dedicated to serving others has long been the couple’s goal. In fact, it had been their dream to take early retirement – think freedom 55 – and volunteer full-time.
Sue is quick to point out that she and Dennis don’t begrudge their peers for heading south to relax each winter, but they wanted to follow another path.
“We want a little more purpose. A different kind of purpose,” says Sue. “At this point in time we have energy, God’s given us the health and strength to volunteer – and we’d like to do it for as long as we can.”
Connecting and thriving
Volunteering is a smart move, particularly for seniors who may experience loneliness as years go on.
According to one study from Brigham Young University, which analyzed data from 148 studies totalling more than 30,000 participants, social isolation was deemed as bad for health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being an alcoholic or never exercising. But volunteering? Not only do people experience the so-called “helper’s high,” which elevates mood, but they continue to feel connected to their communities as well.
Sue and Dennis’s history of helping is impressive. Sue started volunteering for Ten Thousand Villages (in its earliest incarnation) in 1977 when she managed a combination thrift-store and craft shop for two years. Eventually she went on to manage a standalone store, as a volunteer, for a decade and continued to volunteer during the holiday busy season for years after. Organizing festival sales kept Sue and Dennis busy in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI.
But it wasn’t until they took two Ten Thousand Villages learning tours, that they truly understood how their work helped makers and their families around the world.
In the mid-1990s Sue and Dennis visited a small, 12-person Bangladeshi papermaking group housed in a tiny building in the country. Twelve years later they returned to find a thriving business employing 200 makers in multiple buildings.
“A whole community had developed around it because business people saw money being made so they set up shops. We saw a whole community benefiting from this one little project that had grown from a few people making paper out of water hyacinth,” says Dennis.
Sue says Ten Thousand Villages’s philosophy still resonates with her even now and keeps her interested in volunteering for years to come. She doesn’t see herself as a do-gooder, but as a partner with talented makers who want to support their families.
“We address the whole poverty issue in the world in a very constructive way,” she says. “We empower people to have a job and to market their products to be able to get ahead in life.”
More help = more good
Helping those families thrive means finding ways to ensure Ten Thousand Villages survives and thrives too. Dennis is aware that volunteers are so valuable to the organization because they help it focus its cash flow on its primary mission: making a difference in dozens of countries worldwide.
“Let’s face it,” he says. “It’s a tough business world and anything we can do to help cut some of the costs so Ten Thousand Villages can afford to buy more products and support our producers, is a little contribution we can make.”