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After a lifetime of working, millions of baby boomers are heading into retirement. Instead of planning ways to enjoy extended leisure time, a growing trend shows that many retirees are looking for second careers. But in these encore careers, retirees are seeking out paid or volunteer work that combines personal fulfillment with social impact.
Retiree Alice Williams has reached what she calls her “seventies decade.” But the energetic grandmother has no intention of slowing down.
“On Saturdays I play cards with a group of seniors. And on Sundays, I’m at church. On Mondays, I’m back with my children.”
Her children are the students at John H. Finley School in New York City. Four days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Williams works as an elementary school tutor. In a large, open room, she and four other volunteers sit at individual tables piled high with teaching materials. Throughout the day, a steady stream of children comes to work on reading and academic skills. Williams sits close to her charges, patiently attending to the specific needs of each child. Through her they receive the support and nurturing they need to increase comprehension, improve grades, and build self-confidence.
Williams says her efforts help both her and the children. “I get great joy from seeing them make progress. It feels good that they are achieving with my help.”
After Williams retired from her job of 29 years with a pension and Social Security, she started volunteering for Experience Corps, a national service program that engages adults over the age of 55 as tutors and mentors for struggling elementary school students. The power of the organization to promote positive change is impressive: 20,000 students in 20 cities are helped by the volunteer efforts of more than 2,000 Experience Corps members.
Experience Corps seemed tailor-made for Williams. While working full time in her first career as a computer operator, Williams prepared for her future by putting herself through New York University, earning a B.A. and a Master’s Degree.
“I worked as a substitute teacher while still maintaining the job that I had for years. So that meant I would teach during the day, I’d go to school in the afternoon, and from midnights to eight, I would work at my job,” Williams said. “It was rough. But I wanted to finish school and get involved in the city system to see what it was like.”
Ruth Wooden is the Volunteer Board Chair for Civic Ventures, the parent organization of Experience Corps. She understands what draws people into encore careers that provide social good.
“They’ve watched their community for 30, 40 years; they know where there are problems in the community. And they see that they have skills that they can bring to bear to address those problems,” said Wooden.
Though the uncertainties of the economy may force Williams to look for a paying position, for now, she feels well-compensated.
“The pay that I receive is to see my children smiling, especially when they’ve lost teeth,” Williams said laughing, “I like that, and I know I’m helping them.”