Boomers Don't Retire, They Take Charge

Boomers are noticeable for their peculiar attitude toward retirement. For a surprising number of them, retirement is not an opportunity to take up golf or even travel the world. It's a challenge to fill the time with something meaningful. For many, it means starting a business, changing careers, or volunteer work.

boomers, low-income students, nonprofitFor Anne Bonfiglio, it meant starting a nonprofit.

Bonfiglio married into a very other-oriented family. Her in-laws and her husband consistently gave to, helped, and cared about others.

It rubbed off on her. When Bonfiglio retired after 22 years as a programmer and IT manager, she started her own nonprofit, Partnership for Student Advancement.

"I knew I could never retire," Bonfiglio says. "I have to be totally engaged, involved, and challenged."

After much research, she decided to help those who really want help: Low-income students who are motivated to get ahead in spite of the obstacles they face.

High school sophomores with a B average apply to her program. While their GPAs show motivation, the students come from schools where a B is not the same as a B in an upscale suburban school.

The first step is to write an essay. Only 50 percent of those who apply actually write the essay. That's a deal-breaker for Bonfiglio.

"If you won't write the essay, don't sit in the chair and say 'Do for me,' " is Bonfiglio's response. She wants them to find career paths that interest them, that they're willing to work for. Once accepted, the next step is a battery of aptitude tests to determine their interests.

The goal is to have them choose a career suited to them and then give them coaching, internships, and skills to succeed in that career. Bonfiglio brings motivational speakers to the three schools with which she works so other students get a taste of possibility in their futures.

It's the stuff school counselors and parents do in good suburban schools where parents have the money to help their children. For some dozen students so far, it's Partnership for Student Advancement (PSA) who do the job.

For one wanna' be doctor, his internship at Harlem Hospital made him realize that medicine wasn't for him. He's now in college, majoring in accounting, and doing just fine, thank you.

"Kids have to find out what's inside them, that's when they will become successful people," Bonfiglio says. "Don't put a square peg in a round hole."

PSA's other participants are still in the 3-year program, learning skills from resume writing to budgeting, from how to dress to reality checks on what life can be if you take yourself seriously.

Bonfiglio's biggest obstacle has been the schools themselves, who evince enthusiasm at first and then won't let her coaches on campus to meet with students. Not a person to be easily discouraged, Bonfiglio has set up phone coaching sessions for PSA's participants.

Well, maybe not her biggest obstacle. Like other nonprofits, money is always an issue. She has donors, sponsors, and grants. And even in-kind support. Half her work week is networking, both to find funding, internships and speakers for her "retirement" project, and to enlist schools in the program.

Rather than backing down as time goes on, she wants to expand the program, to provide money for college or vocational training after high school. So far, that is but a dream for Bonfiglio and her students.

"There's no more sincere and dedicated human being than Anne, she is a totally caring soul," says a member of the advisory board for PSA.

Bonfiglio can give because, she says, she satisfied with her life. Those who aren't satisfied, who are still struggling to achieve or acquire something, can't find the time or energy to give.

I'd disagree with her on that. It seems to me that giving to others – particularly of your time and yourself rather than just money – makes you realize what you have achieved and how little you need to acquire. In other words, instead of being satisfied before you give, give and you'll become satisfied.

Bonfiglio represents a new retirement paradigm: retire so you can do something, not so you can do nothing. Whether that means starting a nonprofit or starting a new business.

What has your experience been with boomer retirees? Have boomers redefined retirement? What will you do when you "retire?"

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