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Boomers Mean Business

Michele Gran and Bud Philbrook started Global Volunteers in 1984, a nonprofit that sponsors volunteer vacations. Some 30 percent of participants are boomers. — Global Volunteers

Doing Good

In 1979, Michele Gran and Bud Philbrook, imbued with youthful idealism, spent part of their honeymoon in a mountain village in Guatemala, writing grant proposals for development projects.

Enthusiastic response to a newspaper story about their experience led them to found Global Volunteers in 1984, a nonprofit that sponsors two- to three-week volunteer vacations in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. Volunteers care for children or work on long-term building projects. Today, boomers make up about 30 percent of their participants.

"When boomers started to turn 55, we started to see a significant uptick in interest in our trips," says Philbrook, 64. "They want to give something back, add meaning to their lives."

Peace Corps volunteers 60 and older have more than doubled in the past three years. And the foundation started by Microsoft's Bill Gates, 55, and his wife, Melinda, 46, has given more than $24 billion to U.S. and international causes.

Pampering Our Kids

When boomers finally became parents, they wanted nothing but the best for the little ones, driving sales of home furnishing, toys and accessories for infants, toddlers and preschoolers to more than $17 billion a year.

A focus on intellectual development led to TV's Sesame Street in 1969, SAT classes and, in 1997, Baby Einstein, an electronic media company that developed DVDs like Baby Mozart, Baby Shakespeare and Baby Galileo. The brand was estimated at $400 million in 2009.

If a product or service for kids didn't exist, boomers created it. When Marin County, Calif., mom Joan Barnes couldn't find a good play group for her toddler, she started a local gym program that, in 1982, went national as Gymboree. When she left the company in 1991, annual revenues were about $30 million.

Barnes wasn't done. In 1992 she fell in love with yoga. The next year she opened Yoga Studio. This time she catered to grown-ups and their interest in health, relaxation and peace of mind.

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