Cities providing meaningful opportunities for people in their golden years

The Milken Institute's 2017 Best Cities for Successful Aging report identifies the best metropolitan areas that are giving aging citizens a quality of life.

“With the largest-ever population of older adults seeking to age in place — a large majority of them living in metropolitan areas — we all have a stake in improving our cities for this generation and the generations ahead.” – Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.

As Baby Boomers age out of the workplace, communities are being looked to more and more to help support their changing needs and provide them with opportunities to give back and maintain a sense of purpose. To help identify the best large and small metropolitan areas that are giving aging citizens an optimal quality of life, The Milken Institute released its 2017 Best Cities for Successful Aging report.

While factors that helped comprise the lists: general livability, health care, wellness, financial security, living arrangements, employment, education, transportation and convenience, perhaps the most important is community engagement and the programs that support it. To highlight this, Milken included two new sections to its report for 2017: Initiatives for Innovation and Programs With a Purpose.

Initiatives for Innovation

In addition to its list of top cities, Milken’s report highlights Initiatives for Innovation, incentive programs that spur innovators and entrepreneurs of all ages to realize the potential of aging lives.

Among them are:

AARP Purpose Prize

Launched by Encore.org in 2006 and now under the AARP umbrella, the Purpose Prize rewards older adults who become agents of social change. Recognizing the creativity and innovation of those who combine their passion and experience for good, the Purpose Prize has awarded $5 million to more than 500 winners and fellows who work in paid or volunteer capacities.

One recent Purpose Prize Fellow, WorkingNation recently featured, was Henry Rock for his work with City Startup Labs, an entrepreneur’s academy that teaches 18- to 34-year-old would-be moguls how to build a business plan, network, and secure funding for their business.

The Eisner Prize

The $100,000 awards, the Eisner Foundation started in 2011, go to individuals or nonprofit groups that demonstrate leadership and excellence in uniting generations, particularly older adults and youth, for positive, lasting change in their communities.

The Encore Prize

Building on its successful 2016 Fast Pitch competition, Encore.org seeks to overcome an “innovation gap” between the world’s longevity gains and the social change that could enable older people to make the most of these added years. The group will host a three-month accelerator for social entrepreneurs to refine their ideas on engaging older people in helping younger people thrive. Eight accelerator finalists will compete for more than $100,000 in prizes, presenting their plans to judges and an audience that includes potential funders.

Programs With a Purpose

Milken canvassed the country last year to compose their list of Programs With a Purpose. Spearheaded by nonprofit organizations, public agencies, and businesses, these programs engage older adults and bring positive change to their lives and communities.

“The policies, programs, and features that we highlight in ‘Best Cities for Successful Aging’ are not just important for older adults,” said Irving. “Throughout our lives, we seek meaning and purpose. A vibrant economy, efficient transportation, effective health services, learning opportunities, and accessible housing enable all individuals and communities to prosper.”

Among the programs featured include:

Stem volunteers

Started in 2004 in Montgomery County, Md., to make the most of expertise in the Washington, D.C., region, the program enlists scientists to volunteer in K-12 classrooms. The goal, in large part, is to interest students in building careers in the vital STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering, and math. In 2015, almost 200 volunteers participated in 10 school districts around the capital city, 80 percent of them retirees. Affiliate programs have popped up around the country. Click here for more information.

Senior Corps

A program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Senior Corps counts 270,000 volunteers age 55-plus in its three programs: Foster Grandparents, RSVP, and Senior Companions. The volunteers apply their experience and talents to a wide range of tasks. They tutor children with special needs, work on environmental and emergency response, renovate homes, help older people with their daily living necessities, mentor, teach, and contribute to other community projects. Volunteers receive guidance and training that help ensure they can contribute in ways that suit their talents, interests, and availability, and modest stipends are available to enable participation by low-income people.

Experience Matters

Experience Matters has converted the motivation and skill of “retirees” into a marketplace of talent and opportunity. The Maricopa County, Arizona organization maintains a roster of retiree volunteers who seek to give back. It has a registry of 494 nonprofit groups; when one needs a position filled, whether in a professional role or to provide personal assistance such as tutoring, Experience Matters connects the organization with qualified volunteers.

“We take people with years of experience in their fields and help channel that talent to a nonprofit that needs those skills,” says spokeswoman Lisa Rolland-Keith.

Since 2009, she says, Experience Matters has placed 656 volunteers who, instead of having a “traditional retirement,” want to be engaged in the community. The organization also offers workshops to help nonprofits understand older volunteers’ needs and abilities and help volunteers transition to the nonprofit workforce.

Mayor’s Pledge

Another way to recognize cities around the country that are using joining the movement to improve the lives of older people in their communities and serve as incubators of innovation is the Mayor’s Pledge. Since 2014, The Milken Institute has helped encourage mayors to make their cities work better for older adults and provide them with purposeful work and volunteerism by having them sign the pledge. So far, just over 175 mayors have signed the pledge. Click here to see if your city’s mayor is on the list.