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Wednesday, 15 January 2014 21:56

Time for an encore? Nonprofits look to tap into expertise of retiring professionals

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Many professionals like Nancy Heineman, who volunteers at John Ball Zoo for the Experience Corps., do not want to stop helping their communities after they retire. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation program is studying new ways to keep people engaged through an Encore program. Many professionals like Nancy Heineman, who volunteers at John Ball Zoo for the Experience Corps., do not want to stop helping their communities after they retire. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation program is studying new ways to keep people engaged through an Encore program. COURTESY PHOTO

Baby boomers may be ready to step down from their everyday jobs, but many of them aren’t prepared to walk away completely from their roles in the community.

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation is developing a program designed to encourage these baby boomer retirees to put the skills and talents they spent years perfecting in their careers to work in the community. The foundation’s efforts are part of a national program known as Encore that is already partnering with community organizations throughout the country.

The GRCF has created a part-time fellowship that will provide a stipend to Jill Harkema, who will spend the next year studying the feasibility of an Encore program in Grand Rapids.

“There’s a huge drain on our economy because of the baby boomers. Ten thousand will be reaching the age of 65 everyday in the U.S. and applying for benefits. We’re really trying to address that,” Harkema said. “We want to look at it instead as a tremendous resource that is available to the community.”

Harkema, the retired executive director of Safe Haven Ministries in Grand Rapids, is an example of what the program could accomplish. Prior to working for Safe Haven, she was the director of outreach for a hospital in the Los Angeles, Calif. area.

“There’s such a windfall of talented and committed experienced adults out there, and such a plethora of issues our community faces,” Kate Luckert Schmid, GRCF program director, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to connect nonprofits with the experience of retirees to enhance the work of Grand Rapids nonprofits for greater social change.”

The Encore program started when social entrepreneur Marc Freedman founded Civic Ventures in 1997 to tackle transforming the aging of the country’s population from an “inevitable demographic disaster” into a process for social renewal. That started with the Experience Corps program, which engaged people over age 55 in serving as tutors and mentors in poor neighborhoods and the lowest performing schools — a program that was eventually taken over by the AARP.

The foundation isn’t really interested in running the Encore program, but rather in seeing it survive in some form locally, Harkema said.

“We will be assessing the interest for this program and how the Kent County area could sustain an Encore program, whether it involves starting a 501(c)(3) or partnering with other agencies,” Harkema said. “The intent is not to recreate something that already exists. We need to figure out what’s working.”

An advisory committee whose members will reflect the diversity in the community is being put together to assist Harkema with the feasibility study.

“When a person retires, they are often at the top of their game, but they don’t want to work that many hours anymore,” Harkema said. “They go from having a demanding position and the next day they’re retired and at a loss.”

These individuals are a boon to nonprofits, which are most often unable to pay for the types of professional-level services Encore fellows can provide. Some of these services are paid fellowships that are usually part-time positions that are time-limited.

One of Harkema’s friends who recently retired from a corporate marketing position is now working with a large nonprofit in Portland, Ore. and will be on the organization’s staff for one year. Harkema said she functions almost like a consultant and is helping in areas such as branding and strategic direction.

“This is an example of a highly skilled person that Encore would make available to a nonprofit,” she said.

In the cases of paid fellowships, half of the funding would come from the local Encore chapter, which raises funds through donations, and the other half would be through the nonprofit.

“The person may end up hooking up with an equestrian center, organic farm or clinic,” Harkema said. “This is meant more to focus on these retired people and what their interests are. Some of the dialogue we will have will be with the whole world of higher education to see if we can prepare programs to help this population stay productive within the next 10 years.”

Encore has also partnered with more than 40 community college throughout the country — including Grand Rapids Community College, Macomb Community College and Washtenaw Community College in Michigan — to provide training for “encore careers” for adults over age 50 who are looking to take on new roles involving education, health care, social services and the environment. The training can go for specific positions or can be used for adults exploring several options in considering an encore career.

“The whole idea here is to encourage people who are recently retired to utilize their skill set to give back to the community and to do something for the common good,” Harkema said.

Read 2175 times Last modified on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 21:56

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