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As we age, the knowledge, skill, and wisdom we gain enables us to make significant contributions to the social, political, and environmental fabric of our communities.

Older people have an important role to play in advocacy, activism and nurturing the community. Several national and local initiatives have focused on how to engage older adults to solve community problems as well as how to help older people link to opportunities in their community.

The AGEnts for Change Program, sponsored by St. Barnabas Senior Services in Los Angeles, brings together adults age 60 and older from all cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences in the Los Angeles community to advocate for the rights of older adults, educate policymakers, and mobilize their peers on such critical issues as food security, safe housing, health care, and creating age-friendly neighborhoods. The AGEnts program, winner of the 2016 GIA Diversity Award, trains leadership volunteers to make presentations to legislators, public officials, and community leaders, and also offers media training, practical instruction on how to set up phone banks, institute letter-writing campaigns, and organize public events such as rallies, walks, and gatherings. St. Barnabas Senior Services is supported by numerous philanthropic organizations, including Archstone Foundation, May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, and The SCAN Foundation. created the Generation to Generation campaign, which is working to mobilize one million people age 50 and older to stand up and show up for kids and help change the national conversation about intergenerational relationships in America. Numerous local and national organizations are partnering with Generation to Generation to bring the message to their communities. The Eisner Foundation, for example, made a two-year, $500,000 grant to support the campaign. Generations United’s Seniors4Kids — which worked with state networks of older adults to advocate for public policies that benefit youth from 2005 to 2015—joined forces with Generation to Generation in 2016.

The Community Experience Partnership (CEP) mobilized older people in nine diverse communities across the country to address important community issues. CEP’s website offers a library of free, downloadable resources that includes stories, videos, how-to guides, templates, and other technical support materials useful to those considering launching or supporting community-driven initiatives. The partnership was an initiative of The Atlantic Philanthropies.

In Maine, Encore Leadership Corps provides volunteer opportunities for people over 50 years old who want to give back to their community. EnCorps, as it’s known, is a program of the University of Maine Center on Aging in partnership with the Maine Community Foundation and with the cooperation of local, state, and national organizations. Each year, EnCorps trains 250 older adults from throughout the state to be volunteer leaders. The program focuses on environmental stewardship, grassroots leadership, food security and community development, with an emphasis on making decisions that protect and improving the quality of life for all community residents. Initial project funding was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Aging Initiative and the Atlantic Philanthropies. Additional matching support is provided by Jane’s Trust, Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust, and the Davis Conservation Foundation.

EngAGE runs the EngAGE Across Generations program, which helps older adults become involved with younger people in their communities as mentors, sages, and neighbors. The program uses storytelling, history, arts classes, gardening, food, and other unifying programs to have older adults and youth realize how much they have in common. The program has developed more than 1,200 class hours of programming linking older people and kids in their communities. Among the major contributors who support EngAGE are Aroha Philanthropies, The Eisner Foundation, and May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust. For more information, see GIA’s Arts and Culture Issue Brief.

What to fund

  • Leadership training to prepare older adults for community leadership roles
  • Development of volunteer jobs as researchers, planners, advocates, mentors, teachers
  • Training community agencies in designing meaningful volunteer positions for older people
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