As they reach retirement in record numbers, baby boomers are rediscovering their passions and reconnecting with younger and older generations.
Story By Greg Fornia, SCT ’92
Reviled for squandering the legacy of “the greatest generation,” revered for redefining what it means to be middle-aged and considered irrelevant by those under the age of 30, baby boomers—those 79 million people born between 1946 and 1964 living in the U.S.—stir strong opinions. What is indisputable is that those born during the early years of the post-World War II demographic bulge are now in their 60s. With so many people entering the “young old” cohort, will the boomer generation reinvent what it means to age in the U.S.?
“People are living longer today,” says Nancy Henkin, EDU ’73, ’80, executive director of the Intergenerational Center at Temple, “and that raises many questions: How long do I want to work? Who do I want to be? How will I live my life?”
Established in 1979, the Intergenerational Center, formerly known as the Center for Intergenerational Learning, offers several initiatives that help those 50 and older navigate their lives. More broadly, the center is dedicated to bringing generations together to strengthen local communities and promote lifelong engagement. Many center initiatives reach out to diverse populations, from recent immigrants to children in urban schools.
“When demographers and others started talking about the baby-boom generation, they assumed it would eventually turn into a glut of workers who would leave the workforce and have nothing to do,” explains Henkins, who generally uses the term “50 plus” to describe this population. “Many baby boomers are not interested in traditional retirement. They are looking for compelling opportunities to give back to their communities, learn new things, continue working or take on new career challenges. They are a tremendous community resource.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person in the U.S. who reaches the age of 50 has a life expectancy of another 30 years.
“Essentially, we have added a new stage to life,” Henkin says. “But for most people, it is not about what stage you are in; it’s about the overall journey.”
Time to Come of Age
To help people make the most of the journey, the Intergenerational Center offers Coming of Age, an initiative designed to help the 50-plus population explore their futures, make civic connections and contribute to society through opportunities—both paid and unpaid—in their communities.
Launched in 2002 as a partnership between the Intergenerational Center, Philadelphia radio and television station WHYY, AARP Pennsylvania and the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Coming of Age also trains nonprofit groups on how to harness the energy and expertise of older people.
“Today, people 50 and older are healthy and vigorous and ready to take on new challenges,” says Mady Prowler, assistant director of Coming of Age, which has sites in Philadelphia, Delaware, Central Pennsylvania, Kansas City and San Francisco. Another site is scheduled to open soon in Austin, Texas.
With WHYY, Coming of Age produces Boomervision!, event programs that feature prominent authors and national experts discussing work, health and well-being, and other topics. Another WHYY collaboration is Coming of Age Radio Profiles, audio and web profiles about people 50 and older and who have had exciting life transitions.
Through the Intergenerational Center, older adults can sign on for Experience Corps, a program that provides literacy support to elementary school students in Philadelphia and in other cities across the country. Photograph by Alex Harris.
A community garden project brings together boomers and seniors as well as students from a local school. Photo by Joseph V. Labolito.
Linda Dubin Garfield, CLA ’64, EDU ’69, ’84, is included in the profile series. A retired high school guidance counselor, she now is an award-winning professional printmaker and mixed-media artist. “I finally followed my own advice to students: ‘Follow your dreams,’” she says. “My dream was to be an artist.”
Since becoming a full-time printmaker in 2005, Dubin also has started ARTsisters, a group of professional female artists dedicated to community engagement, and Smart Business Consulting, which helps emerging artists market their work. “I’m combining art and my skills as a counselor,” Dubin says. “Creating art can be very isolating, so I’m always looking to bring people together.”
Coming of Age also organizes “Make a BIG Difference” teams, small groups of volunteers based at local organizations who address critical community needs.
For example, at the Bristol Township (Pa.) Senior Center, a 12-member team took on several health and wellness initiatives. Team members ranged in age from 50 to 80, with some employed, retired or actively looking for work. Several team members traveled to Sesame Place, the Bucks County, Pa., amusement park, to learn about environmentally friendly gardening techniques. They then shared what they learned at the senior center and brought in students from nearby schools and another community organization to help with a garden project.
Supported by a Coming of Age grant, team members taught courses in the Arthritis Foundation’s self-help program and in Healthy Steps, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s fall-prevention program.
“I wanted to get into shape and thought that by teaching others, I would be more committed to keeping myself fit,” says Ellen Miller, THM ’89. A former senior center director herself who was, in her words, “unwillingly retired” in her early 60s, Miller enjoys working with the volunteer team as she looks for a new paid position
in her field.
“The volunteers take the lead in running the project, which creates a sense of shared purpose and a common goal,” says Bonnie Worth, director of the Bristol Township Senior Center. “A real team and strong, supportive friendships develop.”
Worth, who has turned to the Intergenerational Center for training and support for nearly 20 years, says her center will next try to develop a volunteer team that focuses on programs for veterans.
Through an Intergenerational Lens
While Coming of Age focuses on connecting baby boomers to new opportunities, other programs bring generations together to address critical community needs.
“For more than 31 years, the center has utilized intergenerational strategies to support care-giving families, improve academic achievement, foster immigrant integration and enrich childcare programs,” says Nancy Henkin, who was mentored by Maggie Kuhn, political activist and founder of the intergenerational organization called Gray Panthers.
This intergenerational approach is exemplified by Communities for All Ages, the center’s initiative in 25 cities that helps communities address local issues and promote the well-being of all age groups. For example, residents in East Jerusalem and Itta Bena, both in Mississippi, are working on obesity prevention through access to fresh food and health education. In Kalamazoo, Mich., residents from different generations are working to help youth stay in school. And in Phoenix, the program focuses on ways to improve community safety.
According to Henkin, “Increased diversity and competition for scarce resources require that we begin to think and act differently—for the common good. By creating new alliances among organizations, empowering residents of all ages and creating opportunities for interaction across ages and cultures, Communities for All Ages is creating places that are good for growing up and growing older.”
For more information about the programs the Intergenerational Center offers, click here.
Back to Fall 2010