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The search for meaning

Resource type: News

Chicago Tribune |

Retirees seek fulfillment — and pay — by pursuing renewed interests by Tanika White When he started at Maryland State College in 1962, Daniel Maddox envisioned a career working with young people, preferably in physical education. But as often happens, life got in the way, and Maddox decided he needed a steady paycheck more than a college degree. So, at 20, he took a job at General Motors Corp. and worked there almost 40 years. Now that he’s retired, Maddox has renewed his interest in helping young people by volunteering at a Baltimore elementary school as a part of Experience Corps, a program that places people 55 and older in urban classrooms. Increasingly, retirees such as Maddox find that after long, successful careers in one arena, the prospect of sitting around and doing nothing — or of spending days baby-sitting, golfing or finding other leisure activities — has little appeal. Instead, older adults are trying to keep busy in ways that have meaning and value. Maddox has done so, without giving up a steady income: Experience Corps provides a stipend for his hours of mentoring and tutoring. “The kids bring a lot of issues to school. You can see it in them; you can feel it in them,” said Maddox, who lives in Baltimore. “If you have any love for a child, you can’t just sit around and do nothing. You try to help them.” The issue will be increasingly important as the Baby Boom generation moves into retirement. Currently, 32 million Americans are receiving Social Security retirement benefits, and the population over 65 will reach 63 million by 2025, according to the Michigan Retirement Research Center. Meanwhile, half of Americans age 50 to 70 still want to do work that assists others and gives them a sense of purpose, according to a 2005 survey by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a think tank that deals with older workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of active workers over 65 will increase by more than 80 percent and account for 6.1 percent of the total labor force by 2016, compared with 3.6 percent in 2006. Many refer to post-career years as “rewiring,” rather than retiring. The forces behind that change are financial and psychological. “As we all live longer, people find that living on a retirement income, on pensions and Social Security, just doesn’t support everything that they hoped their lifestyle to be,” said John Gomperts, president of Civic Ventures and chief executive of Experience Corps. “And secondly, and probably more profoundly, there is a need as we grow older to do that which has meaning, those things that have purpose, that leave a legacy, something larger than yourself.” Charlie Conklin knows that feeling well. After 36 years at Bethlehem Steel, the manager found himself drawn to environmental issues. He retired in 1995, but instead of making a beeline for the golf course he headed straight for tree plantings and other conservation efforts. “I have an interest in providing for your children and mine, for future generations, to be able to pass along what we have been so blessed with,” said Conklin, who volunteers with many organizations, including the Baltimore County Department of Aging’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. “I probably feel a greater sense of urgency now than all those years I was working for Bethlehem Steel and was being held accountable for my salary.” To meet the needs of this new generation of seniors, businesses and post-career programs have sprung up around the country. Arnold Eppel, director of Baltimore County’s Department of Aging, said his office will conduct several workshops in the next few months to help seniors navigate a new world of work, and teach potential employers how to attract talented retirees. “Your typical Baby Boomer is leaving a management position and is looking for opportunities to engage, but they don’t want to put stamps on envelopes,” Eppel said. “I understand that. I’m 52 and I’m studying for my master’s degree in geriatric services. This is a real change for a lot of people. You know how it is. At 25 you’re saying, ‘I can’t wait to retire.’ Now that I’m 52, I can’t imagine retiring. I don’t know what I’d do all day long.” Organizations such as Score, Experience Corps and ReServe all work to bring together groups or people who want help from older adults willing to provide it. ReServe, a non-profit that has had success in the New York area over the last three years matching retirees with public service jobs that pay a small stipend, found they not only wanted paid work,but it also should mean something. The retirees, called ReServists, come from all corners of the business world, said Executive Director Claire Altman. One is a former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney who now trains people how to avoid identity theft. An ex-nurse conducts intake exams at a drug-abuse treatment program. The non-profits or agencies that hire ReServists pay $14 an hour, $10 of which goes to the worker. Non-profits don’t mind paying the fee, Altman said, because they realize that retired people are good workers with a lifetime of experience. “This is a group that hits the ground running, has the skills to already do the job and is, frankly, low-maintenance,” Altman said.

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United States


Civic Ventures, Experience Corps, retirement