Creative Aging Expert

Winter 2012

In This Issue


Retraining Retirees for Health Care Jobs

Paula Foertsch wasn't ready to be forced into retirement at age 60. She began looking for ways to start her second act shortly after she was laid off. She'd always been interested in doing medical billing. Her timing couldn't have been better. Baltimore County was launching Maturity Works, a custom health care job training program for people age 55 and up, part of a nationwide effort to prepare older employees for the new workplace and meet regional employment needs.

"It gives us a chance to go and continue to work competitively, show that we are mature and have something to offer, and that we can work in this new environment," Foertsch said. Health and medicine are big business in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Four of the county's top 10 employers are medical related. It's one of the few sectors to not only survive but modestly thrive during the economic downturn. And older workers are an underutilized resource due to misconceptions about ability and productivity levels.

"We wanted to find jobs that would allow them to make a living wage. We wanted them to be able to go through a fairly short-term training period," said Edward J. Fangman, the county's workforce development chief. "We were looking for areas that would be cost-effective from our point of view and get people back to work," he adds. There is a robust demand for positions like medical coding specialists and surgical technicians. The market for surgical technicians, for instance, is expected to grow 45% in the next two years.

The Community College of Baltimore County serves as the primary training provider as students take courses to prepare them to become medical records clerks, patient account representatives, and take advantage of other entry-level health care support jobs.

Ten municipalities in 10 states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Texas, received $10 million in federal grants to implement similar initiatives focusing on industries like accounting and financial services, administrative support, green construction, transportation and energy. "Many older workers really need to have full-time jobs to maintain their standard of living and to recoup the investments they have lost in their retirement accounts as the economy turned down," said Stephen Sweet, an assistant professor of sociology at Ithaca College. This information came from The Baltimore Sun, July 03, 2011, in an article written by Raven L. Hill.

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Aging Improvement Districts

Last year East Harlem became New York City's first Aging Improvement District. Sixty stores identified with window signs agreed to put out folding chairs to let customers rest as they do their errands. The stores also try to keep aisles free of tripping hazards and use larger type so signs are easier to read. A community pool set aside senior-only hours so older swimmers could get in their laps without faster kids and teens in the way. On one long block, accountant Henry Calderon welcomes passers-by to rest in his air-conditioned lobby even if they're not customers.

In East Harlem a yellow school bus pulls up to a curb and 69-year-old Jenny Rodriguez climbs off. The bus has already dropped off a load of kids at school. Now before the afternoon trip home, it is shuttling older adults to a market where they flock to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

More than 200 times, school buses have taken older adults from senior centers to supermarkets in different neighborhoods. It's just one of a variety of initiatives begun in 2009 by the New York Academy of Medicine and the city's government to address the needs of older residents.

Other cities are joining this effort. Atlanta is creating what it calls "lifelong communities." Philadelphia is testing whether living in a walkable community really makes older adults healthier. In Portland, Oregon, there's a push to fit senior concerns such as accessible housing into the city's new planning and zoning policies.

It is exciting to see communities planning to consider the needs of their older citizens. I hope this is a trend that sparks new thinking all over America. Information in this piece came from an AP article, "Aging boomers strain cities built for the young," by Lauran Neergaard, 8/3/2011.

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Encore Fellowships

Encore Careers reports that Intel has become the first company to offer Encore Fellowships to all of its retiring employees in the United States. Encore Fellowships — paid, part-time, year-long assignments working at local non-profits — provide a new source of experienced talent to organizations solving social problems, while offering those who have finished mid-life careers a chance to transition to encore careers in the non-profit sector. Intel retirees who become Encore Fellows will get a $25,000 stipend, and six months of health insurance coverage paid by Intel.

Marc Freedman, CEO of Civic Ventures/Encore Careers, encourages people to tell their employers about Encore Fellowships. "It should be easier for millions to find work for the greater good in the encore stage of life. Working together we can make this happen."

More information on this program can be found by visiting encore.org. I highly recommend Freedman's latest book, The Big Shift, Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife.

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Category Busters

Commentary from Positive Aging Newsletter, May/June 2011 (I appreciated this article so much I am including the whole piece in my newsletter. Apologies to those who subscribe to the Positive Aging Newsletter.)

There were the heroes of gang busters and ghost busters, and now we need a new variety of hero: the category buster. By this we mean people who challenge the common attempt to describe and explain us in terms of set categories. Recently an Irish therapist colleague argued strongly against understanding clients in terms of diagnostic categories. She was especially concerned with people who are called "disabled" because of the effects of that category on their lives. Once they accepted the label into their lives, they began to shape their lives around it. The same is true of such categories as "aging" and "old."

It is not only that such labels suggest constraints over how we may behave, they also reduce our sense of who we are. Some time ago a woman at a party introduced another woman, as "Julie, a cancer survivor." Julie recoiled at this definition of herself because it shoved all the other aspects of herself into the shadows of a diagnosis.

Such thoughts were magnified by the front cover of the New York Times Magazine, June 26, 2011, which featured a Yankees baseball player with a candle on his helmet, standing on a birthday cake. The caption read, "Derek Jeter turns 37, an age that, for a professional athlete, is nothing to celebrate." Inside a long article featured statistics on the decline of aging athletes. However, less than a month later the shortstop climbed into the record books when he reached 3,000 hits, an achievement that is rare in baseball history. Further this hit was a home run; the fans were delirious. Jeter's category defying behavior was equaled well by two women tennis players in the finals of the French Open. Both women — Na Li from China and Francesca Schiavone from Italy — were hovering in their 30s, an age when most women tennis players are considered well past their supposed prime.

Now, however, we must celebrate the category busters in their later years. These are the heroes among us who disregard the cultural expectations, who refuse to be constrained by categories. They reject the common phrase "I am too old to..." flirt, go dancing, enter the contest, buy a sports car, have my teeth fixed, visit Egypt, learn.

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Learning Opportunities for Seniors

According to Fastweb, a college financial aid resource, 21 states and Washington offer free tuition for seniors at some or all of their public colleges. I have audited courses on the Muslim Religion and Race and Class at Virginia Commonwealth University and taken a free computer course at a local community college.

Besides these opportunities, there are many Lifelong Learning Institutes. These are noncredit educational programs that involve no tests or grades, just learning for the joy of it. Examples are: Osher, Road Scholar, Shepherd's Centers of America, and Oasis. Check these sites to see if any of these programs operate where you live.

Penn State at York has an amazing Osher program. Its motto is,"The Place Where Curiosity Never Retires." Some of the courses offered are: Cloning, The Music of Wales, The Peace Corps, Privy Digging, Organ Grinders, Introduction to Mushrooming, Internet: The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and Celebrating Bats. Their instructors are often retired persons sharing their expertise, and leaders from the community — all of whom volunteer their time. One pays a $50 fee to be a member and courses range from $5 for a one-session course to $20 for a six-session course. They are also starting a lecture series in honor of the older women who founded the program at the university. I know about this because the director of the program and two colleagues came to Richmond to interview me to be a lecturer.

There is even a retirement community affiliated with Lasell College in Newton, Mass., that requires residents to take classes in order to live there! As you can see there are no lack of programs across the country to help seniors study numerous interesting topics.

Some of this material was garnered from the Savvy Senior edited by Jim Miller.

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Update

It's been quite a while since the last newsletter — Summer 2011. It is my intention to publish my Make It Happen! newsletter quarterly; sometimes life gets in the way! I just want you to know that I am very much alive and moved into a 55+ community in September which kept me busy for a good eight months researching options of where to move, and then executing the move. Recurring arthritis in my left knee made it mandatory that I move to a first floor apartment.

My new apartment is spacious with two walk-in closets — one of which I am able to keep my bicycle in! My 12'4" sliding glass doors lead directly to an outdoor patio where I often eat my lunch and entertain guests. It catches the afternoon sun, and is surrounded by tall pine trees. After all of my research, angst, and indecision, I have landed at the exact right apartment.

I am not as happy about the 55+idea. It was nothing I anticipated doing. I like intergenerational contacts, though my friends point out there is a wide age range between 55 and 80! There are a few younger families. So far I haven't met many people. They seem to stay inside behind closed blinds. The first thing I do in the morning is fling open my patio door blinds and welcome the day. I am sure in spring when I claim my garden plot and spend time at the large outdoor pool I will meet some of the more active people in this community. In the meantime I remain busy — speaking, playing tennis twice a week, hiking and biking — granted my pace is slowing down, but I'm definitely out there enjoying my 80s. Let me end with a favorite quote sent to me by friend Callie Proctor: "Life isn't about how you survive the storm, but how you dance in the rain."

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