volunteer after 60

I was looking for a volunteer opportunity in retirement, but I wanted to avoid the deep-brain work I was used to – writing, editing, teaching, and communications and social media strategy, etc. – you know, all the stuff I retired from. I needed a break from that.

I happened upon a story on Sixty and Me advising women over 60 to reignite their passion by looking back at what gave them joy when they were young. I used to like roller skating, hula hoop and the trampoline, but those were out. I didn’t draw or play an instrument as a kid, and I wasn’t looking to start, at least not right away.

I had to admit that an area of interest that had always been part of me was beauty and style, especially makeup. It harkened back to my grandmother painting my fingernails bright red when I was five or six and watching in awe as my mother dragged a tiny, wetted brush through a black pallet to turn her long, dark eyelashes into a glamorous fringe. (The version of mascara before the self-contained wand.)

I bought my first blush as a young teen when such powders were just starting to take the place of traditional rouge, and my best friend and I saved our allowances so we could buy Max Factor pancake base at a fancy department store makeup counter.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the model Twiggy and her dramatic eyes inspired a generation of young girls looking to adopt the Mod style, and, yes, when I got older, I painted actual bottom lashes with eyeliner – and not half badly, I might add.

Making Up Is Fun to Do

Makeup has always been part of my routine, and I found experimenting fun, but that was not something I advertised as a woman in the working world with an advanced degree. I wondered if I had the nerve later in life to commit myself to becoming more intentional about makeup, and the answer was yes, if I could find a way to help the world at the same time.

That meant professional training and certification, and there are lots of ways to go. Cosmetologists and estheticians train for months and even years to be able to earn a living making models, stars and brides more beautiful. But I had more modest goals.

I chose Alison courses, which are mostly free, but provide a wide range of self-paced training, including in makeup application. (Obtaining a printed certificate at the end of a course does require payment.) Certificate programs are a popular method these days of furthering education, and there are a lot of options. Check reviews and recommendations closely if you decide to go that route.

After a seven-hour plus training over a couple of weeks, including watching and re-watching videos by professional makeup artists on contouring, highlighting and flawless, feathery brows, I passed enough quizzes to feel confident enough to offer up my skills. Even pros, I learned, sometimes struggled with the perfect cat eye. Oh, and the lashes! They take patience and determination, but they deliver!

When I say confident, though, I’m stretching it because when I showed up for my first gig, I was nervous and insecure.

Inspired by Youth

I had responded via LinkedIn’s volunteer jobs site to a request for help from Veronica Eyenga, executive director of My Girlfriend’s House, a non-profit community of women and young girls “empowering each other to be better, smarter, stronger,” in Capitol Heights, MD, about a half hour’s drive from my suburban Washington, D.C., home.

Veronica Eyenga of the non-profit My Girlfriend’s House (center) poses in costume with the young participants in a fashion show celebrating style in the history of women of color.

Veronica needed volunteers to be part of her “glam squad” for a teen fashion show celebrating the different looks of women of color, from native African makeup to the Harlem Renaissance, the 1970s (think Diana Ross and Donna Summer), Wakanda-esque makeup, and back to today.

I emailed Veronica that I was a novice, but she encouraged me and sent photos of the looks she was after. I would be one of three makeup artists assigned three to four girls each for a full work up with tweaks between changes for the cat walk and stage at the BWI Hilton Hotel.

There’s No Business Like Show Business

I was all nerves as I wheeled in my professional makeup kit, a roller bag I filled to the brim at my local beauty supply store with the help of a young employee who knew her lip liners and especially the dozens of styles of lashes – all at discount prices.

I admit that my tentative approach at first got a few shared glances of concern among the girls, but their supple skin and youthful exuberance made my job easy, and my Twiggy skills returned for the perfect eyeliner wings they desired. By the time I got to the oh-so-important lashes, they were smiling, posing for pictures and comparing lip glosses to see who had the most shine.

A young woman dressed in native African garb displays the makeup the author applied as part of a celebration of African and African-American style.

After a six-hour day of beauty labor – the first big push, then quick touch-ups and endless applications of blush and lip color, powder and reassurance – I gifted each girl a fresh tube of mascara and thanked them for their patience and generous spirit.

A young woman from My Girlfriend’s House and the author mark the end of a successful fashion show celebrating style in the history of women of color.

I rolled my bag to my car, exhausted and fulfilled in my effort to celebrate not only my past, but my effort at learning new skills and taking a chance at my age. Most of all, though, I felt thankful for the girls and their commitment to honor those who came before them, the icons and everyday women who brought style to us all.

Since my professional debut, I have practiced my skills on friends and relatives, and my makeup kit is packed and ready for my next “job.” Now that things are opening up again, I’m seeing even more opportunities to mix my youthful passion with my later-in-life yearning to help in some small way.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you rekindled a passion from your youth? Do you feel an urge to help the world in a volunteer capacity? Have you combined the two? How have you overcome a fear of trying something new or sharpening a skill to help others?