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March 12, 2008 > Coming of age: The power of the fifty plus volunteers

Coming of age: The power of the fifty plus volunteers

By Pathways to Positive Aging

To quote Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a-changin!"

"The concept of volunteerism today is very different from the traditional one. Baby boomers are retiring or will soon be retiring in record numbers. They are more diversified, more educated and offer many professional skills. They are healthier and have a longer life span. They are mostly financially independent and like to enjoy an independent life style. However, while they have their needs, they also desire to give back to the society. Non-profits are trying to figure out how to mobilize the baby boomers and utilize their time and skills in a more useful and positive way."

These words, from Jan Masaoka, Editor of Blue Avocado Magazine and former director of Compass Point, were just the beginning of an extensive and informative dialogue from a day-long workshop hosted by the City of Fremont Human Services Department and The Tri-City Elder Coalition (TCEC). Held on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at Washington Hospital for non-profits and businesses, the workshop focused on learning how to create meaningful opportunities for the 50+ volunteer. "The workshop," stated Dr. Ray Grimm, Coordinator of TCEC's Pathways to Positive Aging, "was a direct result of community focused conversations whereby seniors requested more opportunities to give back to the community in meaningful ways and where retired seniors wanted to volunteer and utilize their professional skills - including many of senior immigrants - who previously were high-powered lawyers, engineers, accountants and educations."

This topic also resonates within the walls of the National Capitol as well. California Senator Barbara Boxer reiterated the importance of the role of volunteerism, through a taped message and applauded the efforts of the Pathways to Positive Aging agenda in addressing senior opportunities.

"It's no secret that baby boomers care about the world we live in," stated TCEC Chair, Mary M. Anderson. "They recycle. They educate. They are in line, online and mainline. They want to volunteer. But at what level, depends upon a number of factors. The world of senior volunteerism is undergoing a transformation of unprecedented proportions driven by the greatest demographic shift in our nation's history."

How do non profits recognize, adapt and integrate these changes into the fabric of their agendas? How will they respond differently? What other resources are needed and what actions/policies are needed to attract and retain a new generation of volunteers? These questions and others were the focus as organizations looked to rethink their organizational structure, values and to reframe messages to effectively market programs and services as it relates to volunteer opportunities.

The workshop's morning agenda included a panel discussion on effective practices in recruiting volunteers within ethnic communities. Panelists included - Angela Yang, Manager, Fremont Libraries, Sylvia Nunez, Legislative Aid for San Mateo County Supervisor, Rose Jacob Gibson, Kashmir Singh Shahi, Alameda County Health Commissioner and Syeda Reshma Yunus, Founder, SEMAH. Yang reported that 81 percent of the Chinese in the Tri-City area are foreign born and nearly 60 percent are college educated. Most of these people are monolingual or bilingual and bring varied work experience. Yet, their comfort level is with their first language. She stated that reaching out to the Chinese community and knowing the culture has provided valuable insight in responding to volunteer assignments. "Our job is to make their volunteer work important, professional, and provide them the proper training in a comfortable environment where they can network with others and have fun while helping us," she commented.

Following the panel discussion, six workshops were held in the afternoon covering aspects of volunteering ranging from identifying new possibilities for the skilled volunteers, recruiting talented volunteers, utilizing job descriptions and contracts, matching the right person for the job, sustaining and motivating the 50+ volunteer and partnering with organizations.

While non-profit and social service organizations proudly claim to utilize volunteers to stuff envelopes, answer phones and serve as receptionists, few know how to utilize volunteers with professional skills in areas such as health care, social work, grant writing, strategic planning, marketing and web design. Even fewer know how to create such opportunities within their organizations and provide appropriate support to attract professional volunteers.

Results of a recent online survey conducted by the City of Fremont Human Services Department indicate that the trend toward community service is even higher in the Tri-City area. Of the 700 boomers who responded to the survey, 94 percent said they expect to do volunteer work after they retire and 77 percent of that group expects to volunteer at a non-profit volunteer or social service agency. One executive level boomer said, "I definitely want to volunteer, but I want to know what authority I have, what staff support I can count on and how large a budget I have to work with."

The first of the Baby Boomers will turn 62 years of age this year. Are you one of them? Are Tri-City area organizations prepared to harness the energy, expertise and passion of this group? The Coming of Age has the power to bring about positive change. And on Feb. 12, the non-profit world had the opportunity to explore the possibilities that are theirs for the asking! Watch for more on this subject from Pathways to Positive Aging in the months ahead.

The Pathways to Positive Aging Project is a partnership between the City of Fremont Human Services Department and the Tri-City Elder Coalition dedicated to improving the long-term care in Fremont, Newark and Union City. This partnership is an integral part of Community Partnerships for Older Adults (CPFOA) - a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more information, visit

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