Discouraged after 10 months of job hunting, Karen Ragland doubted she'd ever find work submitting applications online or an employer who wouldn't think she was too old and overqualified.
Then Ragland, 60, discovered a website for adults over 50. She applied for a bookkeeping job posted on ComingofAge.org.
Eight hours after she hit the send button, Ragland got the call that led to her job at the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association near her home in Philadelphia's Germantown-Mount Airy section.
Bill Cameron, her new supervisor, was wowed by Ragland's experience as an accountant and an auditor. "She's been there and done that," he said. "We were fortunate."
Ragland credits the website focused on those 50 and older with helping her stay in the workforce. "It was the only website I've come across where I felt I'm clearly not going to run into an issue of age."
The popular job bank is just one aspect of Coming of Age, a Philadelphia-based collaboration founded in 2002 by AARP, Philadelphia public radio station WHYY, United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Intergenerational Center at Temple University to promote civic engagement.
Its other online features include an events calendar, lists of volunteer opportunities and articles on topics ranging from caregiving to companionship.
Coming of Age also conducts seminars for people over 50 and for community organizations.
It's all part of the nine-year-old group's mission of nurturing service, learning and leadership among older adults and building the capacity of organizations to use those skills and passions.
One seminar, Explore Your Future, helps people decide whether they want to learn, earn or serve.
"This is for the person who is saying, 'What can I do now?' " said David Kalinoski, AARP Pennsylvania associate state director. "Sometimes people get the sense that now they have time to pursue their dreams, but they don't know how to get started. They're asking, 'How can I harness those dreams that have been in the back of my mind since I was a teenager and put them into a blueprint I can follow for the rest of my life?' "
As Coming of Age helps direct people over 50 into volunteerism, it also nudges nonprofit organizations into thinking of those volunteers as a precious resource.
"For 74 percent of this population, giving back is … a very important part of their lives, and 19 percent said it was an important part of their lives," said Dick Goldberg, Coming of Age's director. "Put those numbers together, and you've got a huge number of people who want to volunteer."
Goldberg said at least 50 people have found full- or part-time jobs through Coming of Age's job bank, and at least 130 have found volunteer work through the program. Goldberg said volunteering added so much to his life after his first career as an off-Broadway playwright and TV writer ("Kate & Allie," "MacGyver") that he decided to get other people to try it, too.
He joined Coming of Age in 2004. Under his leadership, and with AARP participation, Coming of Age has expanded to Texas, Delaware, Missouri and California. Programs in New York and Ohio will open this year.
Beryl Katz, founder of Senior Adults for Greater Education, a Richboro-based mentoring program in 37 Bucks County schools, said attending a Coming of Age training workshop for nonprofit organizations was eye-opening.
"I never really thought about the difference between somebody who is 55 and somebody who is 75 and what would resonate with them," she said.
"We went over how the different cohorts see volunteerism, what happened in history and why they have the attitudes they have. I learned you should craft your opportunity differently for different age groups."
Kathryn Canavan is a freelancer living in Wilmington, Del.
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