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Work & Purpose

One Woman’s ‘Follow Me to 50’ Impressive Year of Public Service

About to turn 50, Amy Yontef-McGrath vowed to do 50 good deeds


Some people celebrate turning 50 with a blowout birthday party. Others take a trip. Some pretend it isn’t happening. Amy Yontef-McGrath, of Gaithersburg, Md., had a very different idea.

The public service lawyer turned stay-at-home mom of three decided she’d complete 50 public service projects in the year preceding hitting the big 5-0.

As she told Andy Levine in an episode of his Second Act Stories podcast, she had felt “I was watching my kids pursue their futures, my husband pursue his career, friends choose their path and I really felt like I was on the sidelines watching.”

“My message is really two-fold: It’s to shake up your life, do something different. And that being involved in your community is very important.”

The Follow Me to 50 Year of Exploration and Discovery

So a few weeks before turning 49, Yontef-McGrath realized she needed to do something. As she says on the podcast: “I had this idea that what if I didn’t have to find the final destination? What if I gave myself this year of exploration and I would discover new passions instead of going back to old ones?”

Amy Yontef-McGrathCredit: Courtesy of Amy Yontef-McGrath
Amy Yontef-McGrath

Then she embarked on a year to find out and wrote about all 50 projects in her blog, Follow Me to 50! Her hope is that readers, and now Second Act Stories podcast listeners, will indeed follow her and take on public service projects themselves.

As she says to Levine: “My message is really two-fold: It’s to shake up your life, do something different. And that being involved in your community is very important.”

Over the course of the Follow Me to 50 year, Yontef-McGrath aimed to not only find 50 ways to do good, but to push herself out of her comfort zone and “really shake up my life.”

The result included everything from jumping into a kayak to clean up Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia River, to helping a group called KindWorks furnish apartments for refugee families, to placing American flags on the graves of 340 war veterans at the Monocacy Cemetery.

Recently, Yontef-McGrath received the Montgomery County Volunteer of the Year Award for her efforts.

On his podcast, Levine asked Yontef-McGrath what she learned from her experience. I recommend listening to the Second Act Stories podcast to learn her full answer. But here’s one of Yontef-McGrath’s key takeaways: “I learned that I’m not done becoming who I am.”

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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