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Tom Nelson: National Conference on Volunteering and Service, Panel on Boomer Engagement

Remarks by Tom Nelson
Chief Operating Officer, AARP
National Conference on Volunteering and Service
Panel on Boomer Engagement
New York, New York
June 29, 2010

Thank you, Heather. I’m delighted to be here with all of you. This is a great opportunity for us to learn from each other about the best ways to engage older Americans in service.

All of us at AARP draw inspiration from the many ways our members have embraced service—from doctors who give of their time in free clinics to volunteers who help people get benefits they couldn’t access or jobs they desperately need.

The range of service our members provide is a tribute to their sense of compassion and their imagination. At the same time, so many of them tell us they want to do more—if only they could find the right opportunities. So it’s terrific that we’re having this conversation today.

The ethic of engagement is a fundamental part of our democratic system. It’s as old as our beginnings and as new as the next post on a neighborhood website. It’s woven throughout our culture—and it is reflected in and reinforced by the Serve America Act. So this is s an especially exciting time for all of who are encouraging involvement by the boomers and their older counterparts.

For all of us, engaging more boomers in service is an ever-evolving process, with fresh insights constantly shaping our work. Today I’d like to share with you what we at AARP have learned—from research and from our experience with Create the Good—about how to support the strong desire of millions of older adults to give back.

First, I’d like to touch on our research findings, then I’ll mention some lessons we draw from the research, and finally, I’ll discuss how we are applying these principles in Create the Good.
The Serve America Act has set a goal of having 10 percent of recruits age 55-plus. This comes at an opportune time.

Today we have the benefit of greater longevity and better health—and new connections arising from technology. Shifting family structures and roles are disrupting the traditional, sequential societal norms.

Age is becoming less of a predictor of how we live our lives.  People 50+ see their lives as a continuous progression, not a series of life stages.  The old paradigm that said you went to school, you worked for one company for a very long time, you retired, then you didn’t do a whole lot and you went downhill—those days are gone.

People 50-plus are the opportunity generations.  They don’t want to be limited or labeled—or defined by what they can’t do.  They want to grow, learn, discover.  They want to embrace change. 

Let me give you an example.  It’s an example that comes from the segments Jane Pauley has put together for AARP and the Today Show that she calls “Your Life Calling.”

Last year, Anthony Tata (TAY-tuh) retired as a Brigadier General in the US military after a 32-year military career.  Today he is the Chief Operating Officer of the Washington, DC public schools. 

“I felt I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve in the military,” he said.  “I decided that was a good first act.”

Now I know that not every second act or third act involves so sharp a turn.  But we all have second or third acts in us.   People 50+ are asking, “What’s next?” and for more and more of them, the answer includes serving their neighbors and communities. 

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