For 30 years, I worked in child abuse protection and foster care, rising to a regional management position, training child-protective workers in the state of New York.
When I stopped working in 2010, I didn’t have a retirement plan. My plan was to develop a plan. After years in state bureaucracies, seeing the services set up without the input of those being served, I knew I wanted to use my skill sets to have an impact on the life of my community of New Rochelle, a low-income, mostly African-American and Latino area where gentrification was occurring.
Eventually I took a part-time position with Communities for All Ages, a program created by Temple University, that utilizes intergenerational work to help individuals of all ages and the communities in which they live.
We held community conversations and establish activities to bring together young and older people. A lot of the older population didn’t feel safe and were reluctant to interface with the youth because of their loud music and the lack of decorum in communication. The youth were not open to being around older people either. Initially, they thought they weren’t going to be listened to, their views dismissed.
But it all came together in a discussion about our local park, where we were able to gather input for the architect about a children’s playground, a basketball field, baseball courts, a community garden and a section reserved for seniors. We created a digital-learning program, using young people to help older people to use computers, cell phones and Skype. Now the youth say, “It’s kinda cool to talk to older people, you can learn a lot.” And the seniors are developing real relationships with them.
Since then, I have launched my consulting firm working with organizations, government agencies and businesses on issues around structural racism and racial equity. I also teach at New York University. But I am still involved in my community. I am a master trainer helping youth and the New Rochelle police department develop trust, and have formed a community group of intergenerational residents called New Rochelle Against Racism – or New ROAR – with the goal of reducing the impact of racism on our community.
What drives me is the concern that we are becoming more segregated as a country than we were before the civil rights movement. Through my encore work, I want to continue my vision of creating a more multi-cultural and equitable society for all races.
I’ve been lucky. I have found something I intend to dedicate my life to. I am in a low-income bracket and, like a lot of people my age, have to find a way to make some income. My advice to others is: Let your work be connected to a passion that you have, take a risk and try it, rather than just getting another job. That will sustain you in the tough times.
This is now my life. This is my encore.