By Carilyn Daniel
Refusing to take forced retirement sitting down, she serves instead
The economy and recession pushed me to retire long before my time as webinars and virtual classrooms replaced human interaction. The need for my skills was narrowing and I didn’t want to stop working, but it was close to impossible to finding a job past the age of 50.
I am an educator and I have had the privilege of travelling extensively while training constituents on IBM and SAP products worldwide. I took every opportunity to seek adventure, visiting the Berber Society in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, speaking with Australian Aborigines, and spending a great deal of time with the workers in South Africa’s townships. I watched as impenetrable boundaries were faced with unwavering opposition. I witnessed struggling families returning home to tin huts after a long day of work to prepare meals over heated barrels. That was when I knew my second career would involve volunteerism and the Peace Corps.
I decided to follow through on this thought when the prospects of finding another position in a slow economy seemed bleak. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware that Peace Corps service required a 27-month commitment, and I have a 90ish-year-old Mom and a brother who resides in a convalescent home, taking that option off the table. Volunteering at home was the next best choice, so I started working for non-profits in the Memphis, TN, area. I attended SCORE workshops, Dress for Success events, and one day I had the opportunity of meeting the person who introduced me to AmeriCorps.
Although I was familiar with the Peace Corps, I didn’t realize we had a comparable stateside program. Without further delay, I completed the steps necessary to become an AmeriCorps VISTA member and started my service working with young women in the urban community to reinforce the academic concepts of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
My first year was a struggle, but also an awakening to the skills, flexibility, and diplomacy seniors provide to the growth of business. When my first term ended, I knew I wanted direct contact, if not with clients, with other VISTAs to assist with the development of sustainable programs. It was then I realized I could become a VISTA Leader, which would utilize even more of my skills.
I served my second term with the STAR Center in Jackson, TN, working to help any person with any disability to realize their potential. Here again I was able to exercise my skills with training webinars, developing relationships with VISTA members, creating programs for motivational training and professional development, assisting VISTAs with technology, and some of the other foundation attributes needed in our young growing workforce today.
Now, in my third year of service, I’m not the same person I was when I joined AmeriCorps. I’m more courteous, patient, aware of my surroundings, humble, caring, fun-loving, environmentally conscious, SNAP aware, and an all-around better person. I’ve taken a Leader position in Washington, DC, with the Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps, a project of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.
I work with “outstanding” VISTA members who are assisting our partners to expand economic opportunity and ensure healthy futures for all Americans by providing comprehensive benefit assistance and reaching out to low-income constituents — particularly to seniors, working families, and Latino populations.
Volunteering not only helps the individual you’re serving, but it helps you sustain. Being able to use and apply these tools has satisfied me tremendously and even though I didn’t have the opportunity to help people in rural areas of the world, I have been able to improve the welfare of people right here at home!
I have but two wishes for this country that possesses an abundance of riches, but still has so many underprivileged and poor. The first would be to ask everyone to walk with “eyes wide open” to see the dedication and commitment of individuals working for a hunger-free America and do what you can to help eliminate poverty and hunger. The second wish is to see more seniors, golden agers, retirees, or “the new 50s” (however you want to spin it) get involved with volunteering.
It has been an all-around win-win situation for me!