Experience Is Best Teacher
A private foundation known as The Atlantic Philanthropies recently awarded the community foundation a $23,571 grant to identify ways to engage older adults in work that benefits the greater Grand Rapids community. GRCF is one of 30 community foundations nationwide sharing in a total of $750,000 in grants as a part of Atlantic Philanthropies’ Community Experience Partnership initiative.
The initial $750,000 investment will be followed by millions of dollars in subsequent grants to support the planning and implementation of new programs that encourage greater civic involvement among people 60 and over, said Laura Robbins, head of the U.S. Aging Program for the Atlantic Philanthropies.
“Tapping the tremendous potential of older adults to improve life for everyone in their communities is at the heart of this initiative,” Robbins said. “Imagine how much stronger communities will be when they choose to benefit from the time and talents of their most experienced citizens.”
The oldest of the 77 million baby boomers began turning 60 this year, and they represent the first wave of the largest, healthiest, best-educated population of Americans ever to enter their seventh decade of life, according to Civic Ventures, a San Francisco-based think tank that creates programs to “help society achieve the greatest return on experience.”
According to new research commissioned by Civic Ventures, half of all American baby boomers age 50 to 59 and half of all “pre-boomers” age 60 to 70 say they are interested in taking jobs now or in the future to help improve the quality of life in their communities. According to Civic Ventures, those citizens “represent an extraordinary pool of social and human capital.”
The recent MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures New Face of Work Survey revealed that half of Americans age 50 to 70 want jobs that contribute to the greater good now and in retirement. The survey of 1,000 people in the 50-70 age range showed that:
**Most see retirement as a time to begin a new chapter in life by being active and involved, starting new activities and setting new goals.
**More than three-quarters of those who say they’ll work in retirement are interested in working to help the poor, the elderly and people in need.
**Nearly half strongly support funding to enable older adults to get training to work in schools or social services after retirement.
Kate Luckert, Grand Rapids Community Foundation program director, said all 700 community foundations in the country had the opportunity to apply for Community Experience Partnership grants. Luckert convened with representatives of the other 29 community foundations Monday and Tuesday in San Francisco and attended an Atlantic Philanthropies orientation.
“What we really want to do is kind of take a non-traditional approach,” Luckert said. “We’re not just looking to expand on volunteer activities and contribute to programs that are existing; we’re trying to redefine the role older adults can play in our community. We’d like to define some new leadership roles where we can truly take advantage of their experiences.”
Luckert will be the point person on the project and she’ll work with a pair of consultants who have been doing a lot of work with the foundation in this area over the last few years. She’ll also do some work with Grand Valley State University’s Community Research Institute, which will conduct a lot of the key interviews and focus groups, as well as handle much of the data analysis. There’s also a lot of existing data in Kent County that the foundation will mine a little deeper, she noted.
“We’re taking advantage of some of the partnerships we have in Grand Rapids to get a comprehensive look at this,” Luckert said. “We want to talk with organizations that are currently succeeding in attracting older adults as volunteers and seeing what kinds of roles they’re expanding into. We’re familiar with a few that have tried and failed to attract older adults, so we really want to talk to them, too, to see what didn’t work.
“I think our community is well suited to take on this approach. I think we all understand that we can’t afford to waste even a drop of the experience we have. We need this naturally growing resource in order to solve some of our most pressing community issues.”
The study phase should take about six months, and then the foundation will share the results of what it has found, as well as what other communities have found, she said.
“What we’re really looking for is a critical social issue and the capacity within our community to address that issue,” she explained.
Luckert said the second phase would involve creating a specific plan to address the issue.
“Once we have identified an issue and have seen some energy from either aging baby boomers or current older adults, then we get to reapply to Atlantic Philanthropies to create a solution around that.”
When that phase is completed, the foundation will reapply for grant monies needed to carry out the plan. Luckert said Atlantic Philanthropies intends to provide funding for up to four or five years for implementation of a plan.
“Atlantic Philanthropies will be looking for projects that will be replicable not only on another issue in our community, but also replicable across the country.”