“Can you imagine us
Years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy…”
— From “Bookends,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1968
Well, Paul Simon, it’s not so strange anymore. You’re 76. So’s your friend Paul McCartney. And Ringo, who sang “Will you still need me, will you still feed me… When I’m sixty-four,” is 77!
I’m not quite there yet but, as a baby boomer who “never trusted anyone over 30,” being in my seventh decade is a shock. (And now I never trust anyone under 30.)
We boomers brag that we changed the world, and we did. We protested and ended an unjust war, brought down a president and invented sex all while in a haze of pot. We were the first generation on the pill, the one which witnessed the legalization of abortion. We marched for civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights. And the world did change.
Well, we changed, too. We aged. We don’t even recognize ourselves in the bathroom mirror.
We will be the longest living generation in history. That means that we may have another 30 years of life after our kids have grown to adulthood and we end our careers. And if we are lucky enough to avoid the ravages of a compromised body, or worse, of an addled mind, we need to figure out what to do to give meaning to our lives over the next decades.
I recently left a field that I had enjoyed for almost 25 years. But I still wanted to work — to have a routine, responsibilities and obligations. To use the experience and skills I had accumulated over my lifetime.
With a sense of purpose, and the knowledge that I had something to offer, I started to network with people I knew in Jewish nonprofits. My pitch: Give me a part-time job and don’t pay me. Win-win, no?
I met with about a dozen fabulous men and women of my kids’ generation (they are running the world now) who head organizations I admire. They were thrilled to talk to me and excited about the opportunity my proposal offered. But when we got down to brass tacks, a job description and an actual job, we were unable to make it work.
Except for the new millennial generation, the baby boomers are the largest generation ever. We have a lot to offer and we don’t want to sit home and knit (not that there’s anything wrong with that.) We want to share our skills, our experience and expertise for the good of the communities of which we are a part. We want to continue to learn and be challenged. Can someone please figure out how to use us productively?
I was finally able to connect with two terrific Jewish nonprofits and now volunteer with them both. They have robust volunteer departments and were open to taking advantage of my particular skill set. (Shout-out to Dorot and National Council of Jewish Women!)
But I know many other people who have not been as fortunate as I have been and have not been able to connect with a meaningful way to spend their time. This is not only a problem for them. Ultimately, it will be a problem for our communities as isolation, lack of purpose and boredom take a toll on the physical and mental health of our senior adult members.
There are, indeed, several existing programs to match volunteers with volunteer positions. But the emphasis is, for the most part, on “service,” not “skills.” So if my goal is to continue to use my professional skills, I will not be able to do that serving a meal in a soup kitchen or helping in an office. (Both of which I have done as a volunteer at different stages of my life.)
I propose the creation of a program that could train people (volunteer management consultants? HR directors? administrators?) to set up a network of volunteer departments for nonprofits. “Jobs,” for which paid staff is unavailable because of, for example, budgetary constraints, could then be posted. Once a shidduch is made, volunteer social workers could counsel college students in university Hillels, professors’ emeriti could teach adult education classes in synagogues, teachers could tutor yeshiva day school students. PR and marketing professionals could help new agencies articulate their message. Accountants and lawyers could provide financial and legal advice, respectively.
The baby boomers are an under-utilized demographic in terms of what we can still contribute to society.
We’re still standing and we’re still ready to rock.
Renée Septimus worked in the field of aging and as an educator. She currently volunteers with NCJWNY’s Pregnancy Loss Support Program and Dorot’s “What Matters” initiative facilitating “caring conversations about end of life.”