Making a difference
Irma Elliott found her life's calling at 68 years old, when she retired from a lifetime of secretarial work and started volunteering at elementary schools.
Lopez and Elliott work together as a team in the class. Elliott goes over the students' homework each week to see where individual children are struggling so she and Lopez can give more attention to that area.
Elliott is strict, Lopez said, so the children are sometimes surprised at first.
A growing market for fellowships that targets older workers connects private-sector expertise with nonprofits in need of help. Millions of baby boomers, like Diao, don't want or can't afford to check out of the workforce at age 65. And many are seeking a transition into work that has a social impact. The San Francisco-based Encore.org helps older workers make that transition by pairing them with nonprofits in need of their private-sector expertise for a fellowship year.
In many foreign languages there actually is no word for retirement. It simply does not exist in their culture. Retirement is a very European/American idea and concept. We most often think of retirement as never working again and doing what we want to do when we want to do it. I am becoming more and more convinced our American idea of retirement is not really what it should be. When we retire, could it not entail working part-time or volunteering? Think about all the knowledge, wisdom and experience we have gained throughout our lives.
By 2006, as Kathy began thinking about retirement and Clay started to cut back on work, the Smilies began taking disaster relief classes. Since then, Kathy has retired and Clay has left engineering. Now they volunteer almost exclusively as natural disaster responders. “We’ve been to Joplin, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, we’ve been to (Hurricane) Sandy, we were up in New Jersey,” said Clay. “I think last year we went on three, maybe four trips that would be about two weeks each,” said Kathy.
Studies have shown some people in their 50s and 60s are holding onto jobs longer, while others are pursuing “second acts”—starting “encore careers” as the next chapter in their professional lives.
For many, they’re now looking to be able to pursue fields and attain positions that fulfill their passion. It is also a way for some older workers to make certain they don’t outlive their savings.
Chris inherited her family’s farm, but has no interest in farming. So Chris, an artist, decided to transform the rural property into studio and housing space for artists, featuring a kiln, looms, painting areas and a metalworking shop, surrounded by nature trails decorated with her partner’s original metal sculptures. Jim, a retired engineer, had a longtime hobby of testing home energy-saving devices, applying his engineer’s skills to sort the valuable from the junk.
You know the kind of difference you want to make in the world. But like many, you may find yourself stuck, asking yourself, “Where do I start?”
Too many people have wonderful ideas that they never put into action because they get overwhelmed at the beginning. Largely this happens because they let fear guide them instead of their inspiration.
Find a cause that lights you up. Get in touch with a nonprofit that needs you.