Promoting Purposeful Lives for Greater Good: Civic Engagement Programs of Aging Organizations
Cullinane, Patrick, Generations
Activities and resources.
The nation's leading aging organizations have committed themselves to the vision of promoting purposeful lives for greater good in the form of civic engagement. The American Society on Aging (asa), the National Council on Aging (ncoa), and the Gerontological Society of America (gsa) recognize and respect the social capital of an aging America. With the generous support of the Atlantic Philanthropies, each organization has made strategic commitments to achieve this vision. This article highlights their work and lists available resources related to it.
ASA Civic Engagement Programs
In one of the five goals in its five-year strategic plan, the American Society on Aging commits itself to strength-based approaches to aging. These approaches affirm what all older adults have to offer in contributing to the quality of life for themselves and their communities, asa's civic engagement efforts are based in the commitment to strength-based approaches to aging.
To promote asa's civic engagement efforts, the Atlantic Philanthropies has provided funding to ASA for a three-year effort to infuse the concept and practice of civic engagement into the full range of asa's activities- and, by extension, into the broader field of aging, asa highlights civic engagement in its publications, including Generations, asa's national newspaper, Aging Today, and its constituent group newsletters. Other means by which asa is focusing on civic engagement include the following:
Educational sessions. The asa-ncoa Joint Conference, held annually, provides three civic engagement opportunities. This year, one of these is a daylong program, "Rethinking Civic Engagement: Broadening Our Vision." Participants will discuss effective ways that the non-profit, government, and corporate sectors can tap the volunteer potential of an aging America; identify effective ways to advocate in Washington for policy that will enhance civic engagement for elders; identify examples of programs that are expanding the availability of meaningful volunteer opportunities for older adults; and discuss a variety of approaches or models for building community partnerships and training older adult volunteers.
Also on the Joint Conference program are thirty-two civic engagement sessions and a peergroup session focusing on the topic. Civic engagement offerings are also planned for asa's upcoming annual Autumn Series on Aging in San Francisco and Philadelphia.
Promotion of diversity and cultural competence. New Ventures in Leadership, asa's pioneering program to develop leadership skills among professionals in aging who are people of color and to enhance their involvement in the national aging arena, plays a critical role in asa's promotion of diversity and cultural competence in civic engagement. For example, each year at least five nvl participants choose civic engagement of older people as the subject of their mandatory research and practice. The projects, featured each year at the Joint Conference, highlight the presence and value of civic engagement in a diverse range of communities, and provide models and examples for a wide variety of activities in the field of aging.
Civic engagement website. ASA has established a website to help its members and others in the field to become better informed and gain access to the latest civic engagement resources. The site is at www.asaging.org/civiceng. It features promising practices and upcoming educational opportunities as well as current reports and other resources. In the "What's Happening" section, people in the field can share their civic engagement activities with others.
Assistance for journalists covering the age beat. Through the Journalists Exchange on Aging (jeoa), a network established with the support of ASA, journalists can gain access to sources and , background about civic engagement. For example, papers on civic engagement policy and social issues, story ideas, and resource lists are available ^www.ascujing.org/media/retirementpress.cfm. Information about civic engagement in the news is available at asa's civic engagement site under the heading "In the News."
NCOA Civic Engagement Programs
Fostering the continuing contributions of older adults is an important part of the past and future of the National Council on Aging, ncoa conducted the initial pilot of the Foster Grandparent Program forty years ago, played a major role in the development of the Senior Community Service Employment Programs, and developed and supports the continued expansion of the Family Friends program. Through its RespectAbility initiative, ncoa is helping to build the capacity of nonprofit service organizations to tap the talents of older adults. Their Continuing Contribution Division supports three key initiatives: Family Friends, RespectAbility, and Wisdom Works.
Family Friends. For twenty years, Family Friends (www.family-frienas.org) has provided support to families whose children have disabilities and chronic illnesses. Family Friends is funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging, and is active in twenty-six locations nationwide.
The purposes of the Family Friends program are to relieve parental stress, support effective parenting behavior, improve parent-child relationships, and increase the well-being of the children and the older volunteers who serve and support the families. Through special training, Family Friends volunteers hone their relationship-building skills, forge a peer-support network, and develop leadership skills that strengthen the capacity of the program.
The effectiveness of the program is currently being measured across seven sites in an evaluation administered by Temple University's Center for Intergenerational Learning. Tentative early findings indicate positive outcomes for volunteers- loneliness has significantly decreased, and generativity has significantly increased.
RespectAbility. The core goal of RespectAbility (www.respectability.org) is to increase the number of older Americans involved in civic engagement, thereby enriching personal and community health. The central challenge is to increase the capacity of nonprofit organizations to take advantage of increasing numbers of highly skilled older volunteers.
RespectAbility is funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies. The project met with great success in the completion of its first three-year phase in June 2006. During phase one, RespectAbility produced a highly acclaimed documentaiy film, The Open Road: America Looks at Aging, about the personal dimensions of aging and retirement, which was broadcast to sixty-nine million PBS households. RespectAbility conducted research to identify barriers to engaging older adults in the nonprofit sector and identified promising practices across the country that engage adults 50-plus in nonprofit organizations.
In the policy arena, RespectAbility contributed to successful efforts to secure commitment to civic engagement of older people as one of the top twenty-five resolutions in the final report of the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, and by successfully incorporating language supporting civic engagement into early versions of the 2006 reauthorization for the Older Americans Act.
Wisdom Works. In 2004, ncoa received a grant from MetLife Foundation to undertake Wisdom Works: Building Better Communities Phase I. This initiative was intended to foster increased civic engagement and to understand how the collective actions of older people working in self-directed volunteer teams could affect their communities. Through a competitive process, ncoa awarded grants to nonprofit agencies in eight communities across the nation, which enabled 325 volunteers to provide services to more than 4,000 people.
GSA Civic Engagement Programs
In July 2004, the Gerontological Society of America received a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies to launch Civic Engagement in an Older America, a five-year initiative to promote the study of civic engagement by experts in the field of aging and to communicate the results ofthat research to the White House Conference policy committee.
Working with an expert work group composed of leaders in the field of civic engagement, gsa was given the task of generating a range of products and activities, including special research and policy publications, research symposia and paper awards at gsa's annual scientific meeting, and a congressional briefing on the topic of civic engagement.
One of the project's first activities was to convene a series of forums and focus groups in conjunction with the 2005 White House Conference on Aging to learn more about current civic engagement initiatives and existing barriers, and to determine potential solutions for enhancing and expanding volunteer opportunities for older adults. The forums-held in Winter Park (Florida), St. Louis, Phoenix, and Boston-gathered input from a diverse group of professionals and stakeholders, including corporate leaders, researchers, government officials, and community representatives. The focus groups-convened in urban, suburban, and rural locations-collected opinions from older adults in three age cohorts: ages 50-59, ages 60-69, and age 70 and older.
The information and data obtained from gsa's civic engagement forums and focus groups were compiled to develop policy recommendations that were presented to the White House Conference policy committee. These policy recommendations helped shape the committee's civic engagement resolutions, gsa also prepared a 2006 civic engagement calendar that was distributed to all conference delegates, members of Congress, and state governors. The calendar, developed in partnership with Civic Ventures, featured photographs of older Americans engaged in improving their communities and a list of programs in which older adults can put their experience into action.
In an effort to promote civic engagement research in its scientific journals and annual conference, gsa's Civic Engagement Project offers two cash awards to recognize outstanding papers on the topic of civic engagement as it relates to older adults. The project awards $500 for a paper from a student or junior scholar and $1,000 for a paper from a senior scholar focusing on an aspect of civic engagement.
To date, gsa has worked with many other organizations- asa, ncoa, Civic Ventures, Volunteers of America, the National Governors Association- to promote mutual interests related to civic engagement. Information about gsa's collaborative efforts in this area, as well as project updates and products, are communicated through the project's civic engagement CE-Newsletter and on its website (www.civicen gagement.org).
Patrick Cullinane, M.S., is director of special projects, American Society on Aging, San Francisco, Calif.…
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Publication information: Article title: Promoting Purposeful Lives for Greater Good: Civic Engagement Programs of Aging Organizations. Contributors: Cullinane, Patrick - Author. Journal title: Generations. Volume: 30. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2006. Page number: 109+. © 2099 American Society of Aging. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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