Promoting volunteerism, encore careers

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Delia Sava

In 1993, following the death of his wife from cancer, Gary Maxworthy retired after 32 years of experience in the food brokerage business. He joined Americorps VISTA and volunteered at a food bank, where he came up with solutions to problems he identified in the distribution sys tem for produce.

Maxworthy came up with a plan. He convinced the food banks to band together and devised a system for growers to donate large amounts that had previously been tossed because it was less than perfect.

At the Governor’s Summit on Civic Engagement last month at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, Maxworthy’s story was held up as a shining example of what baby boomers can contribute as they enter retirement.

A cross-section of leaders who work in local and state aging networks was invited to participate in the day-long summit. The goal was to shape initiatives designed to in crease the number of Marylanders over 50 who give back to society by promoting the value of community service, identifying and engaging stakeholders, and creating a sustainable infrastructure.

For the past 18 months, Maryland has been one of six states selected by the National Governor’s Association to participate in a “policy academy” on civic engage­ment for older adults. The goals were to in crease older adults’ participation in com munity service, the labor market and life long learning.

Marylandranks 14th among the states in volunteer rates among those 65 and older and 20th for baby boomers, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Older adults in general regularly volunteer at a far higher rate than younger people. In Maryland, the median number of hours those age 55 to 64 volunteer each year is 64, while it’s more than 100 for those 65 and older.

Finding a purpose

Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, a San Francisco-based think tank, lauded Maxworthy in his keynote address at the summit. Maxworthy was one of the recipients of the $100,000 Purpose Prize, awarded by Freedman’s organization to social innovators over 60 who create new methods for solving society’s biggest problems.

 

As people move from “aspiration to action” in finding innovative ways to be engaged in their communities, they will need assistance and support, Freedman said.

 

“You can’t have a 30-year retirement,” said Freedman about the 78 million baby boomers making the transition to the next phase of their life.

 

He launched Encore Careers, an organization that helps aging baby boomers combine purpose, passion and a paycheck. A project of Civic Ventures, it offers advice, educational and training resources, employment opportunities and fellowships at its website, www.encore.org.

 

Citing developmental psychologist Erik Erikson’s oft-quoted statement, “I am what survives of me,” Freedman spoke of the baby boomers’ realization that the world they are passing on to future generations may not be better off than the one they inherited from their parents. Freedman noted that society would realize a tremendous return on experience by utilizing the talents of this population. “This could be transformative to get the culture back on track,” he said.

 

Freedman has written three books on the topics of meaningful work and volunteerism in later life. And a new book, Shift, the invention of a new stage of life after the middle years, will be published in February 2011. 

He also co-founded Experience Corps, one of the largest national, nonprofit service programs for people over 55. Participants work as tutors and mentors of ele­mentary school students, and have not only made measurable improvements to classrooms, but have improved their own health in the process. For more informa­tion, visit www.experiencecorps.org

Locating opportunities

Also at the summit, Maryland resident W. Lee Hammond, national president of AARP, spoke about the group’s initiative, Create the Good.

Through its website and searchable database at www.createthegood.org, the program helps match people looking to volunteer in their localities with opportunities posted by numerous nonprofits.

Currently more than 9 million older adults are working with AARP as volunteers, donors and activists. Four in 10 older Americans say they want to help even more than they do now, according to AARP.

Rawle Andrews Jr., senior state director for AARP Maryland, said, “One of the things that AARP is committed to is our motto to serve, not to be served. So when we were approached about a summit to bring together leaders on aging and second half of life services, we ran to be part of this opportunity.”

The summit gave participants an opportunity to share “best practices” and explore new ideas, as well as make connections with others who share similar goals.

Michael Marcus, program director for older adults with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation in Baltimore, said the question of how we can best use this extraordinary resource to better our com munities is one of the critical questions of our time.