5 Ways to Volunteer and Make a Difference

One of the best ways to find a purpose and create meaning in our encore lives is to make a difference in someone else’s life. It helps redirect our focus away from ourselves, and can provide a wonderful sense of fulfillment. If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity as a part of your encore career, here are 5 really great organizations to explore:

1. ExperienceCorp.org: Experience Corps is an award-winning national program that engages people over 55 in meeting their communities’ greatest challenges. Two thousand members of Experience Corps tutor and mentor in 23 cities across the country, providing literacy coaching, homework help, consistent role models and committed, caring attention.

Independent research has shown that Experience Corps boosts student academic performance, helps schools and youth-serving organizations become more successful, and enhances the well-being of older adults in the process. It’s a win-win-win for everyone!

2. SeniorCorps.gov: Senior Corps currently links more than 500,000 Americans to service opportunities by becoming mentors, coaches or companions to people in need or contributing their job skills and expertise to community projects and organizations.

Don’t let the “senior” word put you off, because Senior Corps does an excellent job of connecting people 55+ with the people and organizations that need them most, and offers different ways to get involved. Check out:

3. SeniorCorps.org’s RSVP Program: RSVP is NOT your father’s “Retired Senior Volunteer Program.” This new and improved version connects volunteers with service opportunities in their communities that match their skills, talents, interests and availability.

From building houses to immunizing children, from enhancing the capacity of non-profit organizations to improving and protecting the environment, RSVP volunteers put their unique talents to work to make a difference.

4. SeniorCorps.org’s Foster Grandparents Program: Foster Grandparents program connects volunteers age 60 and over with children and young people with exceptional needs. Volunteers mentor, support, and help some of the most vulnerable children in the United States.

Aggie Bennett and Louise Casey served as Foster Grandparents on the pediatric ward of Maine Medical Center for over a decade, and you can read about their extraordinary experience in Marc Freedman’s Prime Time: How Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement & Transform America.

5. VolunteerMatch.org: Volunteer Match is a terrific site for finding the perfect volunteer opportunity in your community — both ongoing and project based. Not to worry if you live in a more rural area like me. I found three Web pages filled with great volunteer openings!

If you know of an inspirational site not listed here, please let me know.

Meanwhile, may your journey discovering your ideal encore career be joyful, and may you find the perfect fit that ignites your passion, and provides purpose and pizzazz in your life!

Encore Careers: How to Be Empowered by Career Change

You might not like change, but like it or not, everything changes all the time. There’s the kind of change you choose, like retiring from your current work life to pursue the encore career of your dreams. There’s also the kind that’s thrust upon you that you would never choose for yourself, like being downsized from work that you love.

What’s important, in either case, is how you make the journey from where you were to where you choose to be. You can dig in your heels and resist change, or open to the opportunities that change offers. You can look frantically to others for what to do next, or you can trust your own inner knowing. You can throw yourself a pity party, or alter your attitude.

Choose wisely and you’ll discover you have the courage to not only survive, but to actually thrive as you move through your transition.

Jean Shula is an expert on navigating change. She left teaching behind when her youngest child started school, getting a Master’s degree and becoming a therapist — her choice. Getting a divorce just as her three kids were emptying the nest was not her choice. It was on a year-long, post-divorce trip around the US in a camper by herself (her choice) that the idea of writing for a living first sparked.

Once back at home, Jean worked as a therapist for three years before retiring — again, her choice. A year in Austria and a second Master’s degree followed, and finally she jumped into writing full-time, an encore career that she chose whole-heartedly.

In the middle of writing her first book, The Coming of Aging: Learning to Live from the Inside Out, Jean was diagnosed with breast cancer. Derailed? Definitely! But here’s the thing. Jean didn’t waste time battling against the fact of her disease, or blaming or feeling sorry for herself. She took care of business.

One surgery turned into three. Then there was the post-surgery protocol. Then the months of getting her energy and stamina back. Sure, Jean researched her options and got all the information she needed to make a well-informed choice about how to proceed. But, she trusted her instincts and made good decisions for herself.

While the book was on hold, she never lost her excitement about the project or her hope for the future. She saw this derailment as an opportunity to take better care of herself physically, and as a wake-up call to stay focused on the things in life that are most important to her.

Jean uses change to fuel her forward in life. Today, five years after her diagnosis, The Coming of Aging is published, her second book is being shopped to publishers, and a third book is in the works. This dream encore writing career also includes traveling around the country speaking and leading workshops and retreats, and Jean’s having the time of her life.

Once you decide to embrace change rather than resisting it, your encore life and encore career choices become much clearer to you.

Encore Careers: Coping Strategies When Life Throws You a Curveball

Life can throw us a curveball when we least expect it, never more so than in your encore life or encore career.

Sue is single, and was inspired by Jean Shula’s journey in The Coming of Aging. Remember how after Jean’s divorce, she bought a camper and embarked on a year-long adventure traveling around the country? Well, Jean’s story sparked something deep inside Sue, and she decided that when she retires next year, she’s giving herself the gift of a year before creating an encore career and going on her own great adventure.

Sue started researching recreational vehicles, rented one, and drove to a women’s RV weekend a few hours from her home. She had such a good time, she couldn’t wait to get home and put the wheels in motion for the transition to her new life.

But, then the curveball — a heart attack. It was mild, but a set-back just the same. Sue, though, didn’t see it as a set-back; she saw it as a wake-up call. First, to take better care of herself; second, to make sure that she follows her heart to the adventure she envisions. There’s not a doubt in my mind — or Sue’s — that this dream will become a reality.

Mary and her husband, Joe, had their ideal retirement plan in place, were five years away from financial readiness, and were eagerly counting the days until they could take off into this new dream life. Then, Joe died unexpectedly. Devastated to lose her life partner in her 50s, it took Mary two years to go through her grieving process, and start to regain her equilibrium.

While Mary loved her work as a nurse, she was burned out and ready for a change. Without Joe’s income feeding their nest egg, the “ideal” retirement they’d planned was no longer a reality. It was clear to Mary that she needed to leave her current career and move into a new career that would give her the freedom she craved, while earning a good income.

It would have been easy for Mary to feel cheated that she wasn’t going to have the life she’d planned with Joe. That would have kept her stuck and angry, and that’s NOT the kind of life she wanted for herself. So, Mary’s currently exploring ways to take her wealth of nursing knowledge and apply it in new and exciting ways. She’s considering writing and speaking, becoming a medical advocate, and consulting.

Don’t let the curve balls in your life derail your encore career. Get back on the horse, set you goals, and persevere until you reach them!

Encore Careers: Expand Your Thinking About How You Might Make a Difference

There are many different ways we can make a contribution in our encore careers. Often, we think of volunteering when we think of giving back. And, while there’s nothing wrong with volunteering — worthy non-profit organizations everywhere survive and thrive because of their volunteers — I was reminded this week by one of my coaching clients of one powerful and very different way of making a difference on the planet.

Rose and I have been working together for four months, and this week she had a major breakthrough around her encore career. When we began our coaching relationship, she didn’t know what she wanted to do, but Rose was certain that whatever it was, it had to include some kind of contribution.

In our very first session, Rose announced that she thought she would like to join the Peace Corps and put her talents to work in a third world country when she retires. So, it won’t surprise you to find out that Rose’s entire 34-year career has been spent in various helping professions. For the past 12 years, she’s been the Executive Director of a non-profit that provides independent living situations for mentally- and emotionally-challenged adults. She loves her work and the people she helps, and at the same time, she comes home drained and exhausted at the end of each day.

Rose plans to retire in four years, and is fortunate that she will not have to earn an income to meet her financial requirements. She does want to continue to be productive and is on the path to discover a meaningful, fulfilling way to continue to contribute in this next stage of life.

Over the last four months, Rose has identified her values, as well as many of her needs, wants, and desires. Yesterday, her long-buried dream of becoming an artist was uncovered. As a child and into her teens she loved to paint, but put that aside to go to college and get a “real” job.

How did this long-lost dream lead to her new breakthrough? Rose realized that the specific way she has served others during her career has caused her to feel burnt out and yearning for a big change. She was stunned by the realization that she could express herself artistically and make a completely different kind of “difference” by creating works of beauty. This notion of “giving back” by creating beauty for the enjoyment of others did not fit into her traditional definition of this term.

Moreover, she doesn’t have to wait until she retires to start to pursue her art. She plans to set up an easel in the corner of her den, purchase some materials, and find a painting class where she can relearn some of the basics.

Best of all, she’s excited about — and looking forward to — her future. Is there some form of creative expression that you’ve been longing to try? What’s one small step you can take today to begin?

Encore Careers: The Six Qualities of Successful Social Entrepreneurs

So what exactly is a social entrepreneur? According to Ashoka.org, social entrepreneurs are individuals who come up with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing problems. I like to think of them as, first, seeing the places in their community, country or on the planet where people are falling through the cracks and systems are not working, then, coming up with creative new systems and models that really make a difference in people’s lives.

Many people in the Boomers age group are becoming social entrepreneurs. I want to introduce you to five people who have become extraordinary social entrepreneurs. Each was a 2008 or 2009 Purpose Prize winner. The Purpose Prize is the brainchild of Civic Ventures, a San Francisco based think tank which awards ten prizes every year to social innovators over the age of 60.

You can learn more about other Purpose Prize winners at Encore.org.

Nasrine Gross grew up in Afghanistan at a time when girls still went to school, and her mother was a member of parliament. Today, 85% of the population is illiterate and women need their husband’s permission for just about anything. So, Nasrine created a literacy program for couples, and is changing the face of Afghanistan’s future through her organization, Kabultec Inc.

The devastating loss of Liz and Steve Alderman’s 25-year-old son, Peter, in the Twin Towers on 9/11 changed, as Steve says, the trajectory of their lives forever. Inspired by a Nightline story on the one billion people on the planet who have directly experienced torture, terrorism, or mass violence, Liz and Steve are honoring their son by becoming a force for global good. Today, the Peter C. Alderman Foundation trains indigenous mental health care professionals and builds mental health clinics in post-conflict countries around the world.

Growing up homeless with a “big mouth and a bad attitude”, Ann Higdon’s life was changed by one teacher’s confidence in her. When she realized that in the state of Ohio once you’ve dropped out of school you cannot return to get your diploma, Ann started Improved Solutions for Urban Systems (ISUS) which trains 16-22 year olds in construction, technology, manufacturing and health care with a combination of schooling, community service and hands-on training. The three charter schools ISUS runs are consistently ranked at the top of Ohio’s schools, and ISUS students are reviving entire neighborhoods.

Finally, Barbara Cervone was fed up with the way youth are portrayed in our culture, so she created What Kids Can Do, Inc. and gives voice to this underutilized resource. With a 40 year background in education, Barbara knew first-hand that kids didn’t want to be seen as part of the problem, they wanted to be a part of the solution. Through the use of audio, video, books, and the internet, What Kids Can Do is re-shaping communities and tapping this rich resource.

Are you wondering if you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? Here are the qualities that all five social innovators have. They:

1. Are highly innovative. Well, of course, they are. But what’s interesting is that out-of-the-box, creative thinking is a must natural for them. They’re always searching for new ways of doing things, and when something fails they…

2. Are persistent. They keep trying until it works. And, they never let road blocks, obstacles, or naysayers deter them. It’s their can-do attitude that keeps them moving forward — no matter what.

3. Have found a cause that inspires them. It might seem obvious, but each is fully committed to and believes in what they’re doing. They may come at it from different places (Ann and Nasrine’s childhood experiences, Barbara’s career experience, and Liz and Steve’s tragic experience, but each is passionate about their cause.)

4. Have boundless energy. Barbara describes it best when she says that while many of her friends are slowing down at this stage, she has more energy than she’s ever had before, and often feels like a teenager. I’m not sure if the work creates the energy or the energy keeps the work going. Probably a bit of both!

5. Are exceptionally collaborative. In every case, these social innovators are masters of seeking out partnerships that support the work they’re doing, help spread the work, and make it sustainable.

6. Have a positive vision of the future. There’s not a gloomy Gus in this bunch. No matter how daunting the social problem (85% illiteracy in Afghanistan, one billion victims of mass violence) that some might call “hopeless”, they see the possibility and the potential for change and are hopeful and optimistic about the future.

These self-described “ordinary” people are doing the truly extraordinary in their Encore Careers. And, I’m not sure if this is a requirement to be a social entrepreneur, but Nasrine, Liz, Steve, Ann and Barbara are — without exception — five gracious, humble and delightful people. Inspired?