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Life’s second act, with purpose and a plan

Resource type: News

The Oregonian |

A program called Life by Design aims to help aging adults move forward Original Source by Nikole Hannah-Jones Betsy Radigan became a widow at 49 and realized that she didn’t know what to do with the rest of her life. Since she’d been married, all the plans on the horizon had involved their life as a couple. That included a future retirement that would be anything but — her continuing to work in community development and him digging around as a bamboo farmer on the acres they’d buy in Vancouver. Then poof, and those well-laid plans disappeared. She grieved by making tiny decisions. Like buying a dining room table because she couldn’t bear to eat at the one where she and her husband held intimate nightly conversations. And a painstaking remodel of their Piedmont fixer-upper. But then, last winter, a realization. “I was stuck.” Now 53, the baby boomer with years to go before retirement had no interest in doing the work she’d quit to take care of her husband. “It just didn’t feel right,” Radigan says. “Everything else was so different about my life.” She scanned the Internet for volunteer work. She found something much more useful: a new program called Life by Design Northwest. Life by Design is a coalition of nine community organizations and academic institutions that supports aging adults in planning the next phase of their lives. It’s one of just two such programs in the country — the other is in Philadelphia — and officially launched in April, thanks to $1.2 million in grants from Atlantic Philanthropies, Meyer Memorial Trust and the Collins Foundation. Portland won the money because of its reputation as an idea incubator and because Oregon’s population is aging rapidly. The 65-plus population is expected to surge 137 percent in two decades, accounting for one of five Oregonians. The city could set the standard on how to meet this population’s needs. “In previous generations, there was a kind of set pattern for your life,” says Karen Shimada, Life by Design Northwest program manager. “Employees got hired on, were extremely loyal, and after 30 years retired with a golden handshake and entered the life of leisure.” Not anymore, she says. With pensions mostly obsolete, older adults are responsible for their own retirement. They’re also the most active and best-educated retirees in American history. And we’re living longer, meaning there’s lots of life left after one hits 60. “We realized people may not have the skills and support to envision what they may do after they retire,” Shimada says. “A lot of people feel very isolated.” Like Radigan, many facing retirement need a partner in their soul-searching. But Radigan didn’t want to discuss her angst with the mothers pushing strollers in her neighborhood. “I need to be with my people, and my people are baby boomers,” she says. “I’ll be with other people wrestling with the same questions.” Radigan signed on for a life-planning class at Portland Community College and learned others her age shared the ambivalence about traditional retirement. “My stereotypical image of retirees are my parents,” she says. “Retirement was the finish line; the game was over. You stopped working, sold your house and you moved to Florida. But it’s like, at 65, I’m not spent.” Boomers have no intention of walking into the sunset, Shimada says. “We made social history, we made political history,” Radigan says. “So, I think that’s the theme of our lives — we’re going into retirement differently. It’s not going to be a disengagement process like our parents but a re-engagement process.” Life by Design helps aging adults figure out what to do with those decades of skills when they’re not weighed down by a 9-to-5. Using those skills benefits older adults and society, says Philip Griffin, who came out of retirement himself to work as consultant with Life by Design. “These people are productive, they have good work ethics and they’re experienced,” Griffin says. In her class, Radigan took a personality assessment, which she thought would be lame considering she’d done that in her 30s. She quickly found she’s not the woman she was decades ago. The assessment showed her how her interests had changed and what skills she had to offer. It also helped her figure out what type of work or volunteerism would balance both her need to contribute and her desire for flexibility. Life by Design also offers financial planning, which allows participants to figure out if they’ve saved enough to retire when they want to, what their retirement income will look like, and if they can support themselves as they age and need more care. Many of the services are free. Some, like the classes and the online financial planning tool, charge fees. Before the class, Radigan hadn’t worked in four years. But through Life by Design, she discovered she wanted to put her talents into nonprofit organizations, probably helping other boomers find their way. “It clicked,” she says. “I have applied for two jobs in the last two weeks. I felt like I was prepared.” ©2008 The Oregonian

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Life by Design, retirement