This past June I was invited to attend a unique conference held on Long Island, produced by Intergenerational Strategies, and based on a national model called, The Leadership Forum.
Organizations representing Seniors and Youth, as well as many other civic groups were in attendance.
The discussions focused on the growing number of people reaching retirement age on Long Island - the issues and opportunities this presented.
The need to 'employ' the vast human resource seniors represent today, with all it's potential, was one key issue.
I presented a solution we at The Human Development Company have created to answer this need.
And that is that people, all people, need to be appreciated.
What this translates into is the fact that many of our institutions - schools, hospitals, libraries, community centers, soup kitchens, non-profit organizations, etc. are in need of experienced, responsible adults to volunteer.
And some people certainly do. But many don't. How do we motivate those, the majority, who haven't found the inspiration to give some time?
But first we need to ask the question, "What would their contribution be worth to us? To society?"
We have a real aversion to 'Welfare' - people who can work getting something for nothing. But isn't that what we are doing with people over a certain age - in reverse?
Aren't we asking them to give us something of value and we refuse to pay for it?
We want to pat them on the back and say, 'Thank You."
Obviously for many people this simply isn't enough.
If a volunteer gives 10 hours a week at $10 an hour - that has a value of $5,000 annually. A substantial value. And what do they get in return. Our thanks. Well we are a society that doesn't think much of thanks. Especially if you live on a fixed income and are having problems paying your taxes, medicines, etc.
We need to enter into a national debate regarding the feasibility and necessity of compensating and thereby motivating our senior population into action.
Imagine a volunteer who does 20 hours a week, at $10 an hour of community service, total value $10,000 a year, getting a proportionate tax break or real estate tax reduction of $2,000.
In business if we can buy $10,000 worth of services for $2,000 we would do it every time.
Would that motivate many more people to volunteer - you bet it would. Would there be a tremendous benefit to the quality of life for all concerned - you bet there would.
Yes, the money would be an important motivator, especially for the many people who need it. But equally important is the statement that such an action makes - you are valuable - what you're doing is valuable - and we appreciate you.
There are many other benefits that would accrue to our society -
People who are involved in useful endeavors are less likely to become sick - imagine the national savings having people be well and go less to doctors.
Millions of people continuing being productive verses being a drain on resources - productivity is an important way a society measures its wealth
Having people this age continue to be productive would serve as a wonderful role model for their adult children, their grandchildren, and anyone they touch.
People in this stage of life are able to bring a patient, compassionate, encouraging approach to relationships that full time employees, still feeling life's pressures, often can't bring forth.