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By Anita Creamer

Leave it to the Baby Boomers — the generational tsunami that’s radically changed every life-stage they’ve experienced — to reinvent retirement. Who says you have to retire in your 60s, go home and draw the shades? Not Boomers. Through continued employment as well as active involvement in giving back to their communities, they are committed to making a difference.

“Traditional retirement is a 20th century concept that’s in the process of significant reinvention for a number of reasons,” said Paul Irving, the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging chairman and the University of Southern California Davis School of Gerontology’s distinguished scholar-in-residence.

“A significant portion of Baby Boomers don’t want or plan on or expect to retire in the traditional time frame. The reasons are not only financial but a desire for ongoing engagement and purpose. They want to be engaged, involved, active and productive.”

Creating opportunities for people of all ages to contribute something of value in the world — whether through full- or part-time work or through stepped-up civic participation — is good for communities: It makes them more livable, not to mention a whole lot livelier.

Statistics bear out Boomers’ desire to keep on keeping on: The average retirement age has already risen to 61, up from 57 only two decades ago, and more than three-quarters of Boomers say they want to keep working at least part-time after they leave their main careers. Sometimes, unfortunately, that’s because they’re still trying to recover from the asset depletion and unemployment of the recession years. But the fact is that many Boomers simply like to work.

In San Diego, Lisa Strickland, a marketing expert and former registered nurse, established a nonprofit called Operation Boomerang to help people 45 and older find work after unemployment, which tends to have longer duration and lingering financial and emotional after-effects for older adults. Operation Boomerang advocates for companies to rethink their hiring practices and understand that people in the second half of their careers bring experience, loyalty, flexibility and a great work ethic. The nonprofit also provides San Diegans with referrals, information and resume consultation.

“When they rebrand themselves, they can find work,” said Strickland.

Older job seekers have to be flexible, cautions former AARP mature workforce policy adviser Carleen Mackay, author of “Plan B for Boomers”: Only by letting go of the notion of a full-time job with a big salary and cushy benefits can older adults reinvent themselves for a new era of work.

Being open to alternate options — like virtual work and project work — can provide new opportunities.

“You have to reimagine your career,” said Mackay. “Do you really want a new job like the one you did for the last 20 years? Letting go of the past is the hardest thing.”

And after working hard comes giving back: Almost 30 percent of Baby Boomers already volunteer, and some research suggests that number will rise as more Boomers transition into their post-career lives.

“Volunteering keeps older people engaged in the world,” said Carole Ricks, Washington, D.C.,-based digital engagement advisor for Create the Good, a nonprofit that helps connect volunteers in communities around the country to volunteer opportunities like child care, tutoring, helping the infirm, and hosting exchange students.

Almost half of Create the Good’s volunteers are 50 and older, she said, and another 25 percent are in their late 40s.

After people retire, she said, “They can lose contact with their community. They had a routine. When they retired, that drumbeat fades away. Being involved by volunteering continues that drumbeat, but in a different way.”

When Palo Alto attorney Terry Connelly left his longtime position as dean of the graduate business school at Golden Gate University, he turned to Encore Fellows in 2011 to help him continue using his organizational change skills in a new way — to benefit the community. Aspiranet, a South San Francisco nonprofit that relies on California’s older adults as Experience Corps tutors and as foster grandparents, hosts the yearlong Encore Fellowship program to connect the recently retired with high-level assignments in social purpose organizations.

“There was a time in my family’s life that my sister was in foster care,” Connelly said.

“There’s a gift you want to carry on. As soon as I heard that this experience involved foster care, my dials turned up.

“A lot of people like me want to do something like this and make a difference.”

This is the sixth in a series of blogs talking about what it means to create a livable community. Find out more on AARP’s Livability page. You can also see what we are doing in California by following us on Facebook or Twitter.

Anita Creamer is a freelance writer based in Sacramento and a veteran newspaper and magazine reporter who most recently covered aging issues for The Sacramento Bee. You can reach her on Twitter @AnitaCreamer.

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