Beaufort News

The Local Life: United Way kicks off mentoring program

We live in a retirement community, but our retirees are different. Most of them will tell you they are busier now than when they worked.

Volunteerism is the keynote of our Lowcountry community. And volunteers, many of them retirees, are the lifeblood of our Lowcountry United Way. So it's not surprising that United Way is getting behind the efforts of two retired volunteers to provide formal training for mentors who can use their skills to help out in local agencies and schools.

Carolann Roberto and Phyllis Doyle completed their first mentor training class May 4. They had 16 in the class and a waiting list, and United Way plans to make the training a quarterly event.

"The skills they learn can be used at United Way agencies, in schools, even in the corporate world," said Bethany Marcinkowski, United Way of the Lowcountry director of resource services, who oversees the organization's Volunteer Center.

Roberto said the response to the first class was overwhelming, and there's enough interest for another class.

"We had a nice mix of students -- different ages, some from here and some who moved here from other places," Roberto said. "The majority of participants were retired, but we had some who are employed."

Roberto and Doyle created the mentor training program when both women were United Way volunteers in New Jersey. Roberto taught the class there for 10 years. When they both ended up retiring in the Lowcountry -- Doyle in Bluffton and Roberto in Sun City Hilton Head -- it seemed natural to launch the program here.

Course content includes diversity, values, risks, boundaries, supervision and what it means to be a volunteer and a mentor.

"One of our students who came to the first class was looking for help making a decision on what type of volunteering to do here. Some representatives of local United Way agencies came to speak at our last class, which was very helpful," Roberto said.

There's no cost and no minimum age for the class. Roberto has taught the class in workplaces and schools, training seniors to be mentors for freshmen. It takes 12 hours -- usually four three-hour classes -- and if you miss a class, you need to make it up in the next session to get your certificate.

Whether you take the class, just volunteering could have an unexpected benefit. Recent studies show working, which includes being a committed volunteer, is healthier than being retired. That theory is borne out by the retirees you'll meet at almost any event in our community. They tend to be hard-working, energetic and often in charge.

"Our retirees bring enormous resources to their United Way volunteer work. They have a track record, both in United Way and in the careers they've just completed," said United Way Director of Campaign and Development Pamela Reading-Smith. "The experience they bring to us is invaluable."

Roberto, a certified geriatric social worker whose specialty is Alzheimer's disease patients, sounds like a typical retiree in our community when she talks about her plans.

"I'm taking classes at (University of South Carolina Beaufort's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) and will teach some geriatric-related classes for OLLI in the fall, including one on how to communicate with health care professionals," she said. "I enjoy exploring and learning new things.

"A friend said it sounds like I'm back at work, not retired. But when you love to do it, it's not work."

To find out more about the mentor training class or volunteer opportunities in Beaufort and Jasper counties, call Marcinkowski at 843-837-2000 or email