By Lisa H. Towle
Janet Garner-Mullins embraces a passion for lifelong learning. A mother of three adult children with nine grandchildren, she’s earned three degrees and two certifications, and is considering doctoral studies. An ordained minister, Garner-Mullins has also taught in her church.
She retired from an almost 30-year career in the insurance industry but still volunteers her workplace training skills in faith-based settings.
An AARP mailing had her at the first line: “Reimagine your life now.”
“I retired from corporate America, not life,” said the 61-year-old Charlotte resident. “And if it involves classes and learning, I’m there!”
By the end of an AARP Life Reimagined program, Garner-Mullins reached three conclusions: She wanted to volunteer for AARP; Life Reimagined was engaging and meaningful; and she felt called to help others navigate life’s transitions.
Increased longevity, along with changes in health care and the workplace, means that people in what once was considered the last stage of life may have many more chapters. Life Reimagined was designed as a guidance system to look ahead, helping with transitions in relationships, well-being and work.
“It’s not intended to tell people what to do with their time and resources. Instead, it helps them identify what’s most important and how their goals might be reached,” said Audrey Galloway, AARP associate state director for the Triangle region.
‘Checkup on our life’
In addition to a book and in-person workshops, known as Checkups, Life Reimagined has a website that offers tutorials.
“No matter our age, we all have a ‘What’s next?’ ” said Helen Mack, 73, of Clemmons, a retired elementary school principal and a certified gerontologist. “We have checkups for our cars and our dogs, but we never take time to do a checkup on our life.”
Mack trains volunteers as guides to lead the Checkups. Before they begin helping others navigate the program, guides complete a one-day training workshop and a Checkup for themselves. The free Checkup sessions are often held in churches, schools and libraries, with about 10 to 12 participants. They can also be requested by private groups such as book clubs and businesses.
Galloway recalled a series of Checkups in Durham that were tied to a weekly community music series. One session was attended by a recently retired man who was bored, having whizzed through his postretirement to-do list.
“That two-hour Checkup had his brain tracking in a whole new way,” Galloway said. The retiree decided he needed to move to a different town, where he could have new experiences.
At another Life Reimagined event, Suzanne LaFollette-Black, AARP associate state director for the Wilmington region, arranged for Vivian Howard, a celebrity chef and television personality, to discuss her transition from life in New York City to entrepreneurship in rural eastern North Carolina.
In the Charlotte region, associate state director Mike Olender also seeks thought-provoking ways to approach reimagining life. His office sponsors a small running team, which includes a woman who began participating in marathons at 65 and another woman who, after a long struggle with body issues, chose running as a way to get healthy.
Meanwhile, Garner-Mullins has become one of the 26 Life Reimagined guides in the state. She also leads a newly created faith outreach team in Charlotte and serves on the executive council for AARP North Carolina.
“I know that when I see need, I want to meet the need, and this kind of volunteering helps me with that purpose,” she said.
“People like these are throwing out the old rule book and defining aging on their own terms,” Olender said.
For more information, go to lifereimagined.org. To learn about Checkups, go to aarp.org/nc (Upcoming Events) or call 866-389-5650 toll-free.
Lisa H. Towle is a writer living in Cary, N.C.