Retiree Ellen Lamb Enjoys Volunteering

Former Rochester arts teacher enjoys sharing knowledge with adult population

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Volunteering offers Ellen Lamb, 71, a satisfying means of spending her retirement. Four years ago, the Rochester resident retired from her most recent position, the School of the Arts at Rochester City School District, where she taught advanced Latin and advanced placement art history for 20 years. Since then, she has used her background as a commissioned artist and an educator to help others.

OASIS is a nationwide organization that offers a wide array of adult enrichment classes to people 50 and older. Many require just nominal fees to cover expenses.

Lamb has also taught at the college level. Teaching art and architectural history at OASIS in Rochester reminds her of that experience because her mature students at OASIS chose to take art, unlike some of her high school pupils.

“They’re all educated, interesting people,” Lamb said of her OASIS class. “Most have no experience with art and architectural history. They ask interesting questions and bring good ideas into the class. I’ve made friends.”

Before she had retired, she had never heard of OASIS, but a colleague who had retired began to teach Latin at OASIS and recruited Lamb to volunteer there as well once she retired, too.

Lamb teaches one class of 75 minutes weekly for an eight-week segment. Her classes run around 40 students.

“There’s an interest in this,” Lamb said. “It may be a subject people didn’t get a chance to study and they enjoy.”

Lamb believes that the Rochester chapter of OASIS is so successful because “Rochester is a place with great art galleries, lots of public art, and a place that welcomes the arts,” she said.

She added that the area’s numerous educational institutions also supply OASIS with a steady stream of retiring educators. These comprise much of the volunteer OASIS faculty.

Lamb said she’s not a “committed” painter.

“Painting for me isn’t a profession or even a deep interest, but is a therapy,” Lamb said. “A lot of people do things for therapy and painting is one of them for me. I don’t want to be a full-time professional painter but I find it therapeutic.”

She described her art as “big, splashy abstracts” in oils. Her 6-by-8-foot wall-sized paintings require her to paint on her hands and knees. She’s not sure how long she can continue to paint in this posture, but anticipates she’ll figure out another means of painting when she can no longer crouch on the floor.

Lamb also volunteers at various groups that target those struggling financially. She helps with several outreaches of her church, Asbury First United Methodist Church in Rochester. Among its ministries, the church offers a medical clinic, food cupboard, and United Way-affiliated daycare.

“You don’t have to do it all, but if you’re concerned about the population that is in constant poverty, that’s away to get involved,” Lamb said. “Ask at a church. With many of them, it won’t matter if you attend there or not. You meet an awful lot of nice people that way.”

Since many retirees want to travel and enjoy more recreation, Lamb said they should keep in mind that volunteering is pretty flexible.

“It’s not locked in like a job,” she said. “You could do just one day a week or one morning. If you want to go away on a trip, you can have someone cover for you.”

She has enjoyed the friendships she has formed while volunteering.

She advises anyone interested in volunteering to look at organizations with which they’re familiar, such as their place of worship. Or, they could look at groups such as United Way or Salvation Army, which offer several ways to volunteer, both directly and in administration.

Applying skills once used in the workforce brings many retirees satisfaction. Or, using skills enjoyed as hobbies can make volunteering especially fulfilling for others. For example, a retired receptionist may not want to man the phones at an agency anymore, but indulging in her penchant for cooking at a soup kitchen may provide a gratifying way to give back to the community.

Lamb and her husband, the late Tonis Linnamaa, have a daughter who works as an attorney in Buffalo.