When we think of aging, we may think of different milestones we may reach as we get older such as retirement. For many, retirement is the final destination after a long career path in which we finally get to relax indefinitely. A time where we can travel, move to a sunny destination, or possibly start a second career that we’ve always dreamed of. Retirement is the reward for years of working a job that may have required sleepless nights or extended hours. People look forward to this stage of their life and make preparations for the “golden years” to come.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for many people when they get to this stage. In fact, many find themselves struggling after retirement and the years don’t seem as “golden” anymore.
For instance, Florida is considered one of the top ranking places for retirement. Retirees from all over the U.S. move to Florida in hopes of spending their golden years in tranquility. Places in South Florida, specifically Broward County; are top destinations for retirees. Despite this perception, 75.6% of Broward County residents that are 65 years of age and older are at or above the 150% of the poverty level according to the 2017 Census. Many of them have one source of income that is about $20,000 annually. Also, an estimated 46.5% of adults aged 65 and older live alone.
The highest incidences of individuals and families living below poverty level in Broward County reside in the 33311 and 33312 zip codes. A high concentration of African Americans represent individuals living in these areas. These figures show that age, race and socioeconomic status are key factors for social isolation and financial instability which can lead to a decline in health. It also indicates the realities that many minority older adults face are not the ideals people imagine when they think of retirement.
Older adults that walk the line of living in poverty are faced with the options of going back to work or finding unique avenues to remain independent. Having a large older adult population with increased risk for social isolation, financial instability and possible declining health means there’s a need for creating an opportunity for them to be engaged in the community such as volunteerism.
Many older adults faced with these challenges have turned to volunteerism to engage in the community. They’ve used their invaluable life experiences to address community needs such as, assisting veterans, serving in food banks, providing companionship to homebound older adults, and mentoring at risk youth. Many agencies in the community have provided volunteer opportunities to those struggling with aging and economic security. Volunteerism provides a dual benefit by having older adults address a community need and older adults having access to community resources provided by these organizations.
I’ve seen this first hand overseeing the Foster Grandparent Program in Broward County. The Foster Grandparent program provides older adults 55 years of age and “better” to provide tutoring and mentoring to at risk youth throughout Broward County public schools and childcare centers. Volunteers improve the academic performance of underachieving students thus, reducing the incidence of dropping out of school as a result of their interaction.
Currently, many of our volunteers are African American women that represent the aging minority population that live below or are at poverty level in the most underserved areas of the county. Many reside in subsidized housing, receive or are eligible for SNAP benefits and receive Social Security as their only source of income taking home less than $16,000 annually.
These older adults are able to remain active, connected to their community and able to living independently and most importantly have access to resources through community partnerships that will increase their economic security. Our program provides volunteers the ability to receive community resources such as, housing/rehab assistance, financial assistance, nutrition education, utility assistance and caregiver assistance services during monthly trainings/workshops that will fulfill their needs in order to remain independent. Programs such as this allows struggling older adults the ability to gain access to their version of the “golden years.”
In the face of adversity, struggling older adults no longer have to make the difficult decision of sacrificing their retirement for years of additional work just to make ends meet. The creation of volunteer opportunities that harness their unique skills while providing them access to resources that eliminate barriers in stability as created ways for marginalized older adults to thrive as they age.