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Posted: May 25, 2005

Professional Caregiving

Civic Engagement

Leading edge practitioners are becoming fully aware of a concept that has essentially been around for hundreds of years. Studies are being conducted, programs are being funded and services are being expanded that focus on ways of engaging the older adult more significantly than "just keeping them busy," -- ways to incorporate their skills, talents, interests, and time for the betterment of the community.

What is civic engagement? Definitions may vary, but certainly, it can be defined as citizen activities that have public consequences, providing mutual aid, volunteerism, and civil service. It is the antithesis of keeping busy for busy's sake. Nancy Morrow-Howell, PhD, Professor of Social Work at George Warren Brown School of Social Service, Washington University, is a lead researcher in this area and has won a sizable grant from the Atlantic Foundation to study this concept and the ways civic engagement can improve our communities while giving meaning to the effort for self fulfillment.

Ken Dychtwald, a pioneer in aging demographic issues, has talked about the need for communities to develop the infrastructure to absorb, attract and utilize the bounty of life and work experiences available with so many retirees now and in the next forty years. Ways to use their collective knowledge and skill sets is a solution to many of our society's ills, from public education, children of single parent families, needs of immigrants, health care problems of the disabled and infirm "tweeners," to those not covered by Medicaid, who cannot afford insurance, health care or proper nutrition, medication and shelter.

How can the millions of seniors, from the pool of retirees, give of themselves not only to improve society, but also to attain the ultimate in life-long psychological development, that of, generativity or giving back. These opportunities are the way in which older people resolve unfinished business, create a legacy and do final hommage to the meaning of life.

Dychtwald, in his transformational book, Age Power discusses the five biggest train wrecks up ahead if we don't start acting now. He states, "Without envisioning a new purpose for old age, we are creating an "elder wasteland." New, more productive roles for life's later years -- including social contribution, productivity and intergenerational leadership -- need to be established and integrated into all aspects of our culture.  No one loses. The older adult benefits from the newfound pleasure in their activities, their neighbors and neighborhoods benefit from this generous donation of time, skill and energy, and our communities benefit from a healthier environment for seniors. It is also borne out of research that older adults are still the least likely to be asked to volunteer, but when asked, volunteer at 3 times the rate as their younger counterparts. Here's how:

  • visitors or ombudsmen in nursing home, 
  • home remodelers,
  • caregiver supports of the disabled, 
  • home-delivered meals drivers,
  • telephone-reassurance callers, 
  • teachers' aides and special foster grandparents, 
  • professional mentors, 
  • drivers to doctor's appointments, 
  • and skill coaches

Look around your community. How many retirees are there in a 5 mile radius of your service/facility/agency?

How about at your next staff meeting asking this question: What types of supports could you use that would clearly benefit the work you do, the clients you serve and the community at large? Make a list and then take out an ad, or make a sign and invite applicants to interview for these volunteer opportunities to improve the lives of others, and their own in the process.

Try it, share your results, and send your success stories to me at: Sylvia@caregivershome.com.

_____

Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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