Every day, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 – the typical age for retirement. Even in retirement, though, boomers are changing what’s “typical” about American life
Take Mike Brazeal. The retired police officer continues to put his expertise to good use by volunteering. Mike analyzes security concerns at a Springfield, MO shelter and teaches domestic violence prevention to high schoolers and other groups. “I have been amazed at the needs in our community and the opportunities to help fulfill those needs. After a career in law enforcement, I feel I had developed an emotional shell that kept me from feeling empathy for those in need of help. The [Give 5] program has opened my eyes.”.
Give 5 is “a civic matchmaking program” supported by United Way of the Ozarks and the City of Springfield. It is designed to address challenges retirees often face – like isolation and finding a sense of purpose and relevance – by connecting them with meaningful volunteer activities. Give 5 participants commit to a weekly class and “field trip” for five weeks, which introduce them to community needs and volunteer opportunities. The program is so successful – and in such demand -- that United Way is licensing it to other communities.
Projected to possess 70 percent of all U.S. disposable income, baby boomers also bring a wealth of skills, passion and an active lifestyle to the communities where they retire. If cities and towns can offer them resources that contribute to a good quality of life, economic development will follow. “The communities that get this right are going to have a major competitive advantage” said Greg Burris, Give 5 Executive Director and United Way Executive in Residence.
Communities with an active and engaged older population are healthier, as are the seniors themselves, regardless of income. The health benefits of volunteering among lower-income older volunteers has been validated by Senior Corps research. Eighty-four percent of the volunteers reported improved or stable health after serving about two years in the program, and 88% say that they feel less socially isolated -- a risk factor for poor health, particularly among older adults.
Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads our nation’s observance of Older Americans Month and offers great ideas for engaging seniors, from using their expertise on local commissions and boards, to helping serve meals at a homeless shelter, or recruiting volunteers to build a “Tool Lending Library.”
Communities have great needs. Retirees and seniors have time, expertise, and the desire to use both meaningfully. Contact your local United Way to learn more about how older Americans can connect, create and contribute in your community.