Sun City Center has thrived for nearly 60 years on a culture nurtured on the philosophy of "Neighbor Helping Neighbor."
Volunteers keyed all of the benefits and free services available to residents such as the Emergency Squad, the Security Patrol and Samaritan Services.
Now the invaluable efforts provided by such organizations sit in jeopardy due to a decline of volunteers. The people who have been doing these voluntary jobs are aging out, and the baby boomers are not stepping up to fill their positions.
Seniors in Service marketing director Robin Ingles and Bevan Rogel, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Encore Tampa Bay, are pushing to bring the boomers into the realm of volunteerism.
So why this lack of community involvement?
"There are a couple of key things to understand about the boomers," said Rogel, whose Encore organization strives to connect boomers to second careers. "This was the generation that went through the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the sexual revolution. They did everything their way and didn’t want to follow the rules. Now that they are reaching retirement, they have a much different attitude about what that entails."
One critical aspect of this generation is that at least 73 percent of boomers have not saved enough money to live to be 80 or 90 years old. They’re living longer but didn’t factor in savings for a life that extended well beyond the traditional age of 65. Some of them still have to work to make ends meet and that cuts down on the time they can devote to volunteering.
Geographic relocations also factor into the decline.
"The people who originally moved to Sun City Center came from small Midwestern towns and were accustomed to the mindset of a volunteer fire department or volunteer deputies; it was a part of their lifestyle," Ingles said. "Now people are moving in from more urban areas and services like that were performed by people who got paid for it. They really don’t even have the language of ‘it’s a personal responsibility.’
"Their lives were more career oriented and the thought of performing a free service for others just wasn’t an option."
What is happening in Sun City Center is already causing serious problems in many aspects of its retirement lifestyle. Aside from the reduction in services with the Emergency Squad, which can only offer service from three ambulances instead of four, there are also HOAs and COAs that don’t function because they can’t find people willing to step up and assume a leadership role.
Several special interest clubs also are folding for the same reason.
In the face of this critical issue, what do Rogel and Ingles see as a way to solve the problem?
Ingles said they need to create awareness about the community — what makes it so special and how volunteerism is such an important part of it. This is being done through a new service called a "Welcome Meeting" that focuses on new residents and giving them an opportunity to get engaged in the community.
They also have met with more than 30 community leaders and have opened discussions about their serious concerns for the future.
"We have gotten lots of good insights through these sessions," Ingles said. "We are listening to them and are trying to come up with new ways to approach residents making volunteering more appealing to them."
One change that might make a difference is changing the language of their pitch.
"For some reason, the term volunteer has become an icky word," Ingles continued. "Instead of saying volunteer, you talk about getting involved, helping out. These people have a wealth of experience and skills that they want to use, but they don’t know exactly what to do with them now. So we ask, ‘What did you do?’ or ‘What do you like to do?’ We listen and find something that fits their needs, to give them a new purpose."
Of course, not all Baby Boomers are reluctant to help out their community, but many are waiting longer to reach out and find their niche. The purpose of Seniors In Service and Encore Tampa Bay is to guide this new generation of retirees to a fulfilling second half of life by becoming involved in serving others.
Organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, PCAT and the Hope Fund all provide mentoring and tutoring opportunities for seniors who have so much to give to a younger generation.
Boomers can discover a chance to touch people’s lives again, and on their own terms, in their own way.
Contact Kathy Straub at [email protected]