What supports need to be in place so that other elders may become important contributors to their community?
Senior citizens have long represented an untapped pool of useful human resources who are often eager and ready to contribute to any number organizations or activities. While there are certainly cases in which physical infirmity limits the ability of some senior citizens to take an active part in their community, many other have relished the opportunity to "come out of retirement," as it were, and contribute to the betterment of their communities. In order for those senior citizens willing to contribute, however, senior citizens advocates need to work with community businesses and schools to identify positions or responsibilities for which the knowledge and experience of an elderly volunteer can prove beneficial. To date, the most productive, and emotional satisfying contributions made by senior citizens involve mentoring young students and working with them one-on-one to help them learn the basics like reading and math. Many public and private schools across the country have increasingly tapped that resourcepool to help compensate for overcrowded class sizes and shortages of teachers.
Another productive activity in which senior citizens have been successfully utilized is in neighborhood watch programs. Working with local police departments, seniors form volunteer organizations whereby the police provide a modified vehicle and and a modicum of training in how to spot potential problems and how to communicate concerns to the nearest police liaison officer. The citizens -- sometimes designated "Citizens-on-Patrol," or "COP," patrol their communities and report suspicious activities to the police. As most burgleries and robberies are deterred by the simple presence of a pair of watchful eyes, these citizen patrols, utilizing retirees with the time and inclination to participate in such activities, have proven beneficial to communities while providing useful, productive work for those who would otherwise risk protracted periods of dormancy.
Many regions with large populations of retirees, for example, Sun City, Arizona, and much of southern Florida, enjoy the benefits of local activity centers that provide seniors safe, pleasant surroundings in which to interact and remain more sharply focused.
In order for seniors to be able to remain productive contributors to society, they need advocates. These advocates often materialize from within their own communities -- slightly younger, more vibrant members of the communities with the predisposition to take the lead in making connections with social service agencies and other organizations that may provide guidance and/or assistance. The planned communities mentioned above like Sun City and the numerous Florida retirement communities almost always have governing bodies with members elected from within the community and who administer activities that make productive use of seniors. It is often up to the senior citizen communities, however, to identify an activity and conceptualize a plan for bringing it to fruition. Social service agencies might help, but, ultimately, it is the seniors themselves who make it happen.