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A ‘third life’ for retirees 

THIRD AGER: Sue Bender retired but didn't want to quit working.
  • THIRD AGER: Sue Bender retired but didn't want to quit working.

After the children are grown and the grandkids are school age, many older people are left wondering what’s next — especially the 77 million baby boomers, who are now entering a “third age”: retirement.

In response to increasing numbers of people who are retired but not necessarily content to putter around the house, LifeQuest of Arkansas will begin a volunteer program in mid-September to give older people a way to work on their own terms. The Third Age Master Leadership program is a one-year course to develop leadership skills for use in governmental bodies and nonprofit organizations.

“Seniors can be an asset to an organization, but not as envelope-stuffers,” said Charles Crow, Third Age program director. Crow said the program is ideal for high-energy retirees who want to give back to the community.

Candidates are people like Sue Bender, 57, who retired in 2001. She hasn’t been envelope-stuffing. She’s an active scuba diver and fly fisherwoman. Like many young retirees who lead active lifestyles, Bender found retirement was an emotional adjustment. “There’s only so much you can do [with your free time],” she said.

After talking with a friend who mentioned LifeQuest (once known as the Shepherd Center, it offers a variety of programs including a weekly lecture series held at Second Presbyterian Church), Bender enrolled and now serves as a chair of LifeQuest’s Third Age Cafe committee. She not only hopes to take part in the new third-age initiative, she’s helped plan it.

Like Bender, a majority of baby boomers say they would consider taking jobs to serve society, according to a MetLife Foundation Work Survey. Crow said LifeQuest hopes to tap into volunteers from all educational, economic, racial and cultural backgrounds.

LifeQuest Executive Director Jan Zelnick said LifeQuest classes and services should be attractive to older people because they are run by older people.

“The beauty of working with third-agers is their level of tolerance and their genuine understanding … I’m all for youth culture, but it should be tempered by older people,” Zelnick said.

During the program, 30 participants will be divided into teams to research a problem of interest and to develop a solution. For the first six weeks, the group will meet once a week for an all-day training session and, afterwards, will attend a two-day retreat. Participants will work exclusively with their groups on a community project, find money to implement it, and will meet with all teams monthly to give progress reports.

Crow said he expects the experience to sharpen communication skills that may have become “rusty” and to help seniors reconnect socially.

“As a member of a team, each person brings different skills, different backgrounds, and different maturity [levels], but if they have a common goal, they have to figure out who brings what,” he said.

The course will cost $250, but scholarships are available. The deadline to apply is Sept. 1.

The Third Age Initiative is modeled after a similar program in Hartford, Conn. Leadership Greater Hartford Senior Program Director Doe Hentschel said their third-age initiative has focused on developing leadership skills for several years by teaching seniors about themselves and their communities, and ways to improve them.

“Too many people who reach retirement age don’t think about the part of retirement that speaks to their hearts,” Crow said. “There is no grand glory in this [program]. This is something for personal growth.”

Zelnick, 57, said working with seniors has prompted her to start planning for her own third age.

“I want to grow up and be just like them. I’m still working on it,” she said.

For more information, call Charles Crow at (501) 225-6073.

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