I recently attended a White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) regional conference, a kind of dress rehearsal for the main event at the White House on July 13.
The conference, held at the stunning Edward Kennedy Institute for the Senate in Boston, Mass., featured Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, among others. Speakers and panels focused on issues critical to our aging society, including retirement security, healthy aging and elder justice.
These issues are indeed of paramount importance. But the overwhelming concern at the podium, in the panels and in the smaller sessions, was on the needs of the frail elderly.
This focus is both laudable and timely. But there is far more to the story of our changing demographics: Another segment of the “aging” population, the millions of Third Agers between the ages of 55 and 75, are vital, active and equipped with time, talent and the desire to give something back.
When Secretary Burwell spoke of older adults as “assets” for our communities and our country, her remarks set off major applause.
The millions of Third Agers between age 55 and 75 are vital, active and equipped with time, talent and the desire to give something back.
— Ann MacDougall
Boomers Making a Difference
Take Larry Jemison, a retired career postal worker in Cleveland, Ohio, who has spent three years as an AARP Experience Corps volunteer, tutoring young children in basic literacy. Jemison says: “When they tell me, ‘I passed, I passed!’ that’s better than a paycheck.”
Or Garrett Moran, a one-time top manager in a global private equity firm who now uses his business and executive skills as President of Year Up, an amazing organization that helps at-risk youth get on track for skilled jobs or college.
These individuals and millions more like them comprise an ad-hoc “Boomer Corps” — a Peace Corps analog that’s loaded with skills and experience. This army of experienced talent could be an enormously powerful asset in response to some of our country’s biggest challenges: working with at-risk youth, fighting poverty and climate change, and yes, addressing the needs of our frail elderly.
That’s good news for society — and it’s good news for Third Agers, too. Ample scientific evidence shows that purpose-driven work is good for communities and for the people who do it.
Let’s Start a Boomer Corps
Meaningful work or engagement is directly connected to healthy aging and can potentially defer decline to a state of frailty. And for many who are living longer, these encore careers can provide much-needed income.
The bottom line: A real Boomer Corps could offer a powerful triple win for America: advancing healthy aging, financial security and social impact.
The WHCOA should take up Secretary Burwell’s challenge and include programming that includes Third Agers as well as the frail elderly. It should promote stories of individuals and organizations that are harnessing encore talent for the greater good.
Finally, the WHCOA should press for more investment in innovative and scalable models to harness all of this capable, available talent, for the good of individuals and society.
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