On Feb. 20, a group of college students under the guidance of William Ball, associate professor of political science, came together with public interest groups to face the issue of elderly civic engagement. Alongside the Princeton Area Community Foundation, the College hosted a forum titled “Engaging Older Adults for Civic Good” to help adults aged 60 and over become a more active and productive part of their communities.
Participants split into small groups to talk about the obstacles to civic engagement and potential solutions to those obstacles.
According to a press release published after the summit, community members identified lack of awareness, lack of transportation, fear of working in high crime areas and insensitivity to cultural diversity as some of the leading barriers to elderly civic engagement. Better incentives, increased safety and tax breaks were listed as possible solutions.
Joan Hollendonner, a member of the Princeton Area Community Foundation, explained exactly how helpful the over-60 community could be in fixing some of the community’s problems.
“Adults aged 60 and over are the largest untapped resource for solving community issues,” Hollendonner said.
After the discussion groups were completed, Hollendonner and Ball compiled reports based on the community members’ ideas and sent them to the Atlantic Philanthropies, an international philanthropy with a focus on aging.
“We like to act in the role of a catalyst in the process of community development,” Hollendonner said. “We want to give people who are skilled and experienced a chance to stay engaged through things that are meaningful to them.”
Brian Duke, keynote speaker and executive director of the New Jersey Foundation for Aging, discussed the aging of the “Baby Boomers” generation, explaining how a large percentage reached age 60 in the past year.
“The ‘boomers’ are interested in helping the quality of life in their community,” Duke said. “We’re just here to help them figure out how. We’re so conditioned by the ‘human doing’ that we don’t know how to get back to the ‘human being.'”
The discussion groups consisted of community members, one moderator to facilitate discussion and one reporter who would bring ideas back to Ball.
The reporters and two of the moderators were students in Ball’s Tutorial on Deliberative Democracy class and members of the Leadership in Public Affairs program, which is comprised mostly of Ball and his students but is open to all College students.
“I’m very optimistic for success in the near future,” Hollendonner said. “Through the strategy of the National Council of Age and the (American Association of Retired Persons) this has become a big deal.”
Hollendonner noted the large audience for the summit. “It is night time in the middle of February and look how many people came out,” she said. “This is a big deal now.”
She also explained some of the barriers they have met since initiating the project.
“One of the challenges we’ve had is that people think of civic engagement only in terms of volunteerism,” Hollendonner said. “But if we can figure out a way to get people even better jobs in a second career then they’ve ever had before, wouldn’t that be a triumph?”