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Chemistry's Silver Circle—valuable Volunteers

August 30, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 35


"Thank you for helping us in our class, and thank you for being so good." "I wish the year was not over because you are the best volunteer in the world."


These and similar words are being heard more and more frequently by some of our senior ACS members around the country. These are our members of Chemistry's Silver Circle who are increasingly becoming involved in community activities as volunteers.

Last year, former ACS president Eli M. Pearce described members such as me as belonging to a Silver Circle of retired or senior ACS members (C&EN, March 24, 2003, page 39). He cited ways in which our society could benefit by keeping such members active and involved as volunteers so they don't lose interest in ACS and let their membership lapse.

ACS demographic figures from the end of 2003 show that the number of members over 70 years of age is now 15% more than the number of members under 30 years of age. That's the reverse of what it was only five years earlier for those same two age brackets. Clearly, ACS is aging just as our population in general is aging.

Pearce urged that ACS establish a Washington, D.C.-based effort that could serve as a general resource--specifically, as a collection point of examples of what senior members are doing in their communities through local sections and divisions. We now have that kind of centralized effort, led by Marisa Burgener in the Office of Community Activities [m_burgener@, (800) 227-5558 ext. 4458]. Burgener has a wealth of information to share on how local sections around the country are involving their senior members in volunteer efforts throughout local communities.

ACS just recently launched a new website at devoted solely to Chemistry's Silver Circle. It features links to opportunities for seniors plus links to many relevant articles. Please take a look at this valuable resource.

W. H. (Jack) Breazeale of the South Carolina Local Section and former chair of the National Chemistry Week (NCW) Task Force, is a strong advocate of outreach activities. As he says, "How better to share one's love of chemistry than through outreach activities?" He encourages those of the Silver Circle who are not already involved to become involved with the outreach programs of the Committee on Community Activities (formerly the NCW Task Force), for example, NCW, Chemagination, and Earth Day.

Silver Circle members are already very much involved in local section NCW activities around the country each fall. There are also many who do community outreach at their places of employment throughout the year. Mary LeFaivre of the East Central Illinois Local Section is in charge of the outreach program at the Illinois State Water Survey. When groups of students come through her site, it gives her a chance to share her love of the field with all of the young people and, as she says, "to show young women that they, too, can go into a career such as mine."

Al Hazari of the East Tennessee Local Section said, "Chemistry is for people two to 102 years of age" in conjunction with his acceptance of the 2000 ACS Helen Free Award for Public Outreach. He really believes it and practices it, as he puts on educational, hands-on programs for both elementary schools and assisted-living centers in his community. Like LeFaivre, Hazari loves to share his enthusiasm for chemistry with his community.

I can't resist relating my own very rewarding experiences over the past few years as a member of Chemistry's Silver Circle. The quotes at the beginning of this column are from some of my own students and were taken from a booklet of appreciation that they presented to me at the end of this past school year. For four years, I have worked with third-grade students at a local elementary school on St. Helena Island in South Carolina. This school is more than 90% African American, and many of the children are descendants of the Gullahs who first came from Africa to settle on the barrier islands around here in the 18th and 19th centuries.

These kids have become "my kids" as I work with them one morning every week on their math lessons. I also talk with them about science every chance I get and lend support to the one and only science teacher, who has very limited resources. We have been able to provide this science teacher with some of the wonderful ACS resources that are available for K-6 science teachers.

From personal experience, I can say that working with young children can be the most rewarding volunteer experience of your life. If working in an elementary school is not for you, please consider some of the many other things listed on the new website that you can do as an individual in your community. Try any of these ideas at your own risk, though--giving back to your community in these ways can be very addictive!

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ACS Board.


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