Bob Rossman, 75, who lives in Chestnut Hill, has served on the board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association for 20 years and the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network for 25 years.

by Barbara Sherf

Longtime volunteer Bob Rossman, who retired as a computer programmer more than 15 years ago, has some tips for those looking to take on volunteer responsibilities. Rossman, 75, who has lived in Northwest Philadelphia for 40 years, enjoys a mix of volunteer activities that includes serving on several boards, as well as working with his hands.

“For me it’s important to exercise the mind and body, and that’s what I’m doing in terms of my volunteer activities,” says Rossman, who currently lives in Chestnut Hill with his wife, Barbara Bloom. Rossman has served on the board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) for 20 years and the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network for 25 years.

His name was often brought up when considering a CHCA board president, but Rossman likes to remain behind the scenes and is more of a “hands-on” kind of guy who has taken on varied community responsibilities.

His experience has led him to offer the following suggestions to would-be volunteers.

Do what you enjoy

While volunteering for the annual Mt. Airy Day celebration, Rossman was tapped to help set up a stage for the musical acts, and he enjoyed seeing his efforts produce an end product.

“It was fun because it was like a big erector set, and I got to help figure out how to put it together,” Rossman says. “I got to wear a tool belt and street clothes, and that felt right.”

When the CHCA started its popular summer concerts in Pastorius Park, Rossman agreed to supervise setting up the stage for the concerts. “I actually enjoy crawling under there to help set it up. While you are using your mind to figure things out, you are also doing physical labor and getting your hands dirty, and that’s something I enjoy doing, so it’s a good fit for me in terms of volunteering.”

Get out of your ‘comfort zone’

Rossman’s advice: “In addition to doing something that gives you joy, find something that you have been interested in as a spectator and always wanted to try.”

Rossman, like many volunteers, likes the variety of working with several organizations. He thought it would be interesting to serve as the CHCA liaison of the Chestnut Hill Business Association (CHBA), even though he doesn’t own a business. He found out firsthand what business owners were up against and thinking about and helped the group to develop new ideas for helping businesses attract more foot traffic.

“It was fun to brainstorm with all of these business owners and get a sneak peek at what was happening in the business community, while passing along that information to the CHCA Board of Directors. I learned a lot about running a small business and enjoyed the entire process. It was new and different, and that is something volunteers need to look at in order to keep things fresh.”

Know your limits

Rossman has not turned into an uber-volunteer. He feels more comfortable with a slow and steady approach to the projects he works on and knows when to say ‘No’ to certain requests.

“I don’t like stretching myself too thin, and so I like to keep my volunteer activities to 10 hours per week, give or take. I’ve seen where over-committing can be a common problem with volunteers who burn out from the pace. I don’t want my volunteer activities to seem like a chore or a job. I want it to be something I get up in the morning and look forward to doing.

“You have to be aware of what is happening in the community and be willing to jump in when you can and step back when you can’t.”

Rossman adds: “These are all good organizations, and I like what they do, so I try to do what I can to help them out. People get to know you, and when I walk down the street, people smile and I smile back. I like that I can walk to most of my volunteer activities and am part of a wonderful community.”

This article is reprinted, with permission, from Milestones, the monthly publication of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.