New group helps people find their encore
In the Hawthorne Pool in Columbia a couple of years ago, a middle-aged man was telling a friend that he had retired from his pharmacist career and was looking for a meaningful way to stay engaged.
The woman with whom he spoke said she was an activities director at an assistance living facility in Columbia and suggested he volunteer at the site, perhaps to ensure residents that their medications were accurate and up-to-date.
Great idea, the man said. He could use his expertise while giving back to his community.
Elizabeth Mahler happened to overhear the conversation. She saw it as the first step for the recent retiree in what is becoming known as the transition to the “adult encore” phase of a longer life.
It was a major inspiration for her to form Encore Howard County, a new group that aims to reach county residents between retirement and the ever-expanding years before true old age arrives.
“I was involved in the Encore movement nationally at the time, but had not yet started Encore Howard County when I overheard the conversation,” Mahler said.
Mahler, 64, earned her doctorate in Human and Organizational Learning from George Washington University, led strategic planning in the county public school system, and is now an associate professor in adult learning and development at Northeastern University in Boston.
Time for a new act
Adult Encore programs like hers have sprouted up around the country with the realization that older adults are living longer and healthier lives.
“People who have reached 50 to 75 — those used to be the years when they were told to slow down,” Mahler said. “Now we have the energy and we want to keep going. It’s the adult encore age of life that people did not have before.”
Mahler described Encore HoCo as “A loose organization trying to build a network — a community that supports what already is going on. The mission is to build awareness of this new stage of life, that this generation has a gift of time in their lives that previous generations did not have.
“This should lead to decisions on how one wants to use it, how one wants to live these extra years,” she said. “We baby boomers are pioneering this.”
In a recent blog post, she noted that “markers of encore adulthood include a growing sense of mortality along with a wish for meaningful engagement and the opportunity to leave some sort of legacy — but on one’s own terms.”
“It is not a period of decline, as per the traditional narrative on aging, but one of shifting priorities and decision-making about how we want to purposefully use the gift of time.”
Part of a national network
Mahler credits Mark Freedman, president and chief executive officer of Encore.org, as a pioneer of the adult encore movement. Among his popular books are Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life and Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America.
Freedman’s nonprofit group aims to tap the skills and experience of people in midlife and beyond to improve communities.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Freedman noted, “We’ve been in many ways told to prepare for a life that is three score and 10, but in fact there’s a good chance that people will remain healthy into their 80s, and in the future, into their 90s and beyond…
“The years that have been added to life that we keep hearing about have not been added at the end; they’re really being added to the middle or late middle — this period when we actually have learned a great deal and have the chance to do something with that.”
Off to a good start
Since its start-up in April, Encore Howard County has hosted two events: a panel discussion of encore experiences and plans, and a program featuring county resident Tracy Quisenberry, a former accounting executive at a Fortune 500 company.
Quisenberry noted at the event that she has always loved baking cakes and that in 2010, for her encore stage of life, she formedIcing Smiles.
The volunteer, nonprofit organization bakes custom cakes for families affected by a child’s critical illness. Over the years, Icing Smileshas baked cakes for some 18,000 children in families across the country, as well as in Canada and the Netherlands.
“The families we serve have been rocked,” Quisenberry told the HoCo Encore audience. “Their worlds have been completely turned upside down. We help create some positive memories during difficult times, one cake at a time.”
Encore HoCo will continue holding monthly meetings, while participating in other events as well. For example, in October, Encore HoCo will be presenting at the Master Aging Conference sponsored by the Howard County Office of Aging and Independence.
“We will be providing resources and workshops on navigating the encore stage of life,” Mahler said, “including ways to discover one’s own encore.”
To find out more about Encore Howard County and upcoming events, visit its website at encorehoco.org.