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January 14, 2013 / Christian Clansky

In With the New, Out with the Old…Really?

By Tamara Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months visiting with my 96 year old aunt who has been hospitalized. One day, I suddenly realized how young her doctors and nurses looked. Then I began to really look at the faces of the firefighters at the station near my home and the police officers on patrol in my neighborhood. I focused on the fact that the president of the United States is younger than I am. He was younger four years ago, too, but I just hadn’t focused on it then. My aunt’s age and the youth of those caring for her triggered my awareness of and thinking about leadership transition across generations.

A lot has been written in recent years about engaging generation X and Y and the role that the millennials are playing in today’s society. These articles are side-by-side with information about how the baby boomers are healthier and living longer and how those who had thought about retirement in the last decade where forced to continue working as the value of their 401K accounts plummeted during the recession.

The younger ones are asking, “When is my turn?” and the older ones are vibrant and feeling that they still have so much to give; so, what do we do? How do we blend the ages in a way that respects and utilizes the wisdom and experience of seniors along with the new ideas and enthusiasm of the young? And, by the way, if we’re living healthily into our 80s, when do we transition into the category of seniors? Sixty-five increasingly seems too young to mark that milestone.

Whatever happened to the Senior Corps? I can remember hearing a lot about it years ago. The program was conceived by President Kennedy, but really gained recognition and coherence in the ‘70s. Today it seems to be a little-known program under the Corporation for National and Community Service with three prongs: the Foster Grandparent Program, the Senior Companion Program and RSVP (the Retired Senior Volunteer Program).

All three efforts provide valuable services, but all three are efforts to coordinate seniors as volunteers. Does the Senior Corps need a fourth prong focused on what are increasing called encore careers? How do seniors translate their years of experience into new career opportunities that augment, but don’t supplant, the ascendant roles of younger leaders?

Demographers are telling us that we have to prepare for the senior tsunami. In some areas, such as health care and even housing, we seem to be doing that. But how do we also prepare for a large segment of vital gray-haired 60, 70 even 80 year old thinkers and doers whose energy and expertise need to be channeled for society’s benefit? Any ideas?

Tamara’s column is a new feature in The Daily WRAG. Feel free to comment below!

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