Older Adults Can Lead Change in Your Community

More than 30 U.S. community foundations have taken a fresh look at aging in recent years. And they are bringing a new view to their communities—one that considers older adults to be a vast, untapped resource for social change.

As part of the Community Experience Partnership, an initiative of The Atlantic Philanthropies, these community foundations assessed their ability to engage people over the age of 50 in tackling serious local issues.

Now, nine community foundations from Maine to Los Angeles are involving older adults in addressing critical issues ranging from homelessness to health care to early childhood development. They are involving a spectrum of audiences, from immigrants to Native Americans, and are partnering with local agencies to make it happen.

Their work is generating results. Older adults are becoming involved in new roles where they bring unique attributes, including time and experience, which make a difference.

“Baby boomers have always wanted meaning and purpose in their lives and to change the world for the better,” says Therese Ellery, senior program officer at Rose Community Foundation. “And they have. The question is, will they do it again as they age? In Denver, we are counting on it.”

Through its programs, Ellery says, the community foundation “is inspiring this generation to work, serve, learn, and lead in a whole new way, giving them a new purpose and enlisting them once again to make our community a better place to live.”

The experiences, approaches, tools, and lessons learned through this initiative can help any community foundation engage older adults to tackle local issues. Community foundation leaders are invited to join us for the session, How Older Adults are Leading Community Change, at the Fall Conference for Community Foundations in New Orleans on Sunday, September 9, from 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Space is limited to 50 attendees to ensure a highly interactive environment conducive to learning. The session is free, breakfast is included, and registration is required.

At our preconference learning forum, you can talk to colleagues who are successfully implementing 12 distinctly different approaches to engaging older adults in urban and rural settings. You will:


  • hear about the results of this work and its benefits to communities and community foundations
  • take away a model and tools that can be adapted to explore or pursue new opportunities in any community
  • meet the network of community foundations who are involved in this work

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In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you. In what ways are older adults leading change in your own community? Let us know by posting a comment below.

Diana Doyle is a principal at Community Planning & Research and initiative director for the Community Experience Partnership.

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