The keys to happiness are connection and purpose, love and work, relationships and a reason to get up in the morning, according to Marc Freedman, founder of Encore.org, a nonprofit group that works to realize the potential of longer lives and intergenerational connection” and author of “How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations.”
“Some of the most fulfilled people in their retirement years that I’ve met are ones who are working closely with younger generations, distilling and passing on what they’ve learned from life to young people in a position to carry on those ideals,” he says. “Rather than trying so hard to be young, they’ve refocused on being there for those who actually are.”
That’s exactly what Carol Nash did when she retired from Dimensions Healthcare System in Maryland after a long career in the nursing profession.
In 2012, Nash founded a small nonprofit, Bernadette’s House, based in Laurel, Md. The organization provides early intervention and prevention services through an after school mentoring program for girls ages 8 to 17 at risk of teenage pregnancy, drug addiction, or failing in school. “Helping people is what I’ve done my entire life,” she says. “I guess I’m not really retiring.”
“I burn with a passion for what I am doing,” she told me when I interviewed her for my recent book, “Never Too Old To Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life”. “If I can make the difference in the life of one child, then I believe I have fulfilled a purpose here.”
Interest in starting a nonprofit between the ages of 50 and 70 has nearly doubled in recent years, according to research from Encore.org. There are those with a singular focus, like Nash, who are driven by personal life experience. She was raised from age 3 in the convent of the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary, an order of African-American nuns, after the death of her mother. Her guardian there was Sister Maria Bernadette.
“I attribute my early development of self-esteem and confidence to her,” Nash says.
Subsequently, as a registered nurse, Nash came into contact with “young women caught in an endless cycle of teen pregnancy and illiteracy.” So when she retired, she realized she had a calling to support and develop young girls. “I didn’t know where the money was coming from, but I stepped out in faith, found a building close to home, started advertising, and kids started coming,” she says.
Nash invested about $25,000 of her own savings to set up the program. Donors helped provide furniture, fix a leaky roof, and paint the leased space. Volunteer mentors are professional women who make a one-year, one-hour-a-week minimum commitment to working with a child.
Each day after school, more than a dozen girls come to the white house, built in 1892, and stay until 6:30 p.m. There are a range of activities including learning etiquette, reading, dance classes, and more. Each girl is given a mentor, who shares new adventures with her, sometimes going to a ballet, a movie, or the theater, says Nash.
Bernadette’s House also runs a summer program where girls can learn to play sports like lacrosse and tennis. The organization operates mostly from donations and grants. “I believe these kids can really thrive if someone pays attention to them,” Nash says.
Her advice for those who are thinking of starting their own social enterprise venture? “Don’t be afraid to follow your dream, and never give up. Take your time. You need to do your research, seek mentors, and make sure there’s a genuine need for what it is you want to do. If you think you’ve found a niche and are fulfilling a need to make this a better place, then just do it.”
Here are some steps you can take — preferably before you retire from your old job — toward creating your social entrepreneur venture with purpose in your next chapter.
Get financially fit. Debt is a dream killer — one of my favorite mantras. If you’re financially fit, it gives you options.
Take time to reflect. “Carve out solitude, space, and time to consider what kind of mission speaks to you,” says Marci Alboher, the author of “The Encore Career Handbook”. You need a certain amount of humility to switch to nonprofit work.
Reach out to your network to ask for help. Whom do you know in the nonprofit field? Tap your LinkedIn and other social media connections to search for possible contacts. Book an advice and counseling lunch or coffee to brainstorm. Always ask for another name or two of people you might be able to reach out to for guidance.
Do something daily to inch toward your goal. Don’t struggle to find an ideal starting point, or perfect path. Once you have some picture of where you want to go, get things moving by taking small steps toward that vision.