By Celina Grimes
Phil Johnson has big plans with an international movement that’s starting to make waves in the United States to combat senior isolation. The US Men’s Shed Association was founded by three passionate men wanting to deliver a solution to a common issue that older men and women face – how to avoid social isolation and loneliness, while becoming connected to their community after they retire. The US Men’s Shed Association is relativity new.
It’s a sister organization of the Australian Men’s Shed Association that was founded in 2007. With over 3,000 Men’s Sheds worldwide, little has been done in the U.S. until Phil realized that there was a need for an organization like this in the United States and in Minnesota.
The US Men’s Shed Association provides the space for people to create connections, improve mental health, and foster personal growth through the community. Welcome to both men and women, the US Men’s Shed Association offers an inclusive, supportive environment for people to engage with the community through nonprofit activities, such as, adopting a city park to keep litter picked up, putting up shelves in an activity center, painting a fence next to a fire station, making sundaes to hand out at a city summer festival, and trimming trees.
As the director of the US Men’s Shed Association, Phil Johnson is a local Minnesotan changing how retired men and women live their lives. He was also recognized as one of the 50 most inspiring accomplished leaders over the age of 50.
Minnesota Men’s Shed
Introducing the first Minnesota Men’s Shed in Hopkins in December of 2016, Phil has been developing the direction and vision for the U.S. Men’s Shed Association and his local Men’s Shed. Pulling concepts from the Australian Men’s Shed Association, Phil is incorporating the American can do, go do attitude. “It’s about having a place for guys to get together to develop new friendships and connections to their community while doing something fun,” Phil emphasized. Phil’s discovery of the Men’s Shed movement was as simple as researching online for things to do after retirement. Phil retired in 2014 and quickly ran out of his “after I retire” activities. He was looking to make new friends while doing rewarding work in his community. He says that he was motivated to act to establish a Men’s Shed after his father struggled with social isolation after losing his wife and retiring. “My Dad was lost after my Mom died. He wasn’t able to replace these life-long family and work relationships, so he became isolated and lonely sitting at home,” mentioned Phil. Phil recognized that the Men’s Shed movement could offer a way for older men and women avoid these unhealthy patterns.
As of March 2018, his National Association of Men’s Sheds had grown to include 11 local Men’s Sheds across the country. A typical meeting at the Hopkins Men’s Shed varies depending on what activities there might be available to do. Men’s Shed members can join in the work to be done but are also welcome to sit with a cup of coffee and just join in the banter. When the Hopkins Men’s Shed first began meeting, they determined there were things that they could fix at the Hopkins Activity Center [which sponsors the Shed]. With the mentality of be local for local, the Hopkins Men’s Shed has now completed over forty nonprofit projects doing everything from setting up chairs for local community events, to scooping ice cream at the Hopkins Raspberry Festival, and building a lunch table for city workers. “Providing community service is very rewarding for our members,” said Phil. One member of the Hopkins Men Shed mentioned that this is an opportunity to learn how to “live well longer.” When members aren’t working on projects, Phil tries “to get everyone talking”, because Men’s Sheds are “all about social interactions.” “I avoid having members sit in circles because men typically are more comfortable working shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face,” he revealed. It’s been found that as members develop friendships, the group becomes stronger.
Phil has a piece of advice for individuals wanting to get involved in a Men’s Shed or to start one in their community. Phil says to gather men and women together and start to talk about the idea. Phil said that the first meetings of the Hopkins Men Shed was just “guys meeting for coffee to share their life experiences with each other. The long-term goal for Men’s Sheds is to develop stand-alone locations that are run by members themselves. No need to take classes. We just want guys and gals to drop in and see what’s going on.”
“It takes humility to get things started,” said Phil. “If you believe in your product, go spread the word”. To find more information about the US Men’s Shed Association as well as local Men’s Shed in your area, go to usmenssheds.org.