Elders Enrich Communities

A cheerful Black senior woman holds a clipboard and discusses inventory with two food bank volunteers.

Every May, Older Americans Month offers us a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the enduring contributions and vitality of our senior population. Getting older isn’t just about overcoming challenges; it’s about thriving and leading in ways that enrich our communities. 

Helping others is an inspiring way to give back that’s also beneficial for your well-being. Studies have consistently shown that volunteering can improve mental and physical health, provide a sense of purpose while learning new skills, nurture existing relationships, and forge new bonds. For seniors, the overall benefits are impressive. Research on older adults who volunteered as part of Senior Corps found that 84% reported better or stable health after two years, 88% reported a decrease in feelings of isolation, and 71% reported improved companionship.

And, older adults are leading the way by starting businesses that give back to the community. “The growth in people over 50 starting nonprofits and other social-impact organizations is fueled by the intersection of two powerful trends: later-life entrepreneurship, and second acts for the greater good,” explained Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of CoGenerate (formerly, to AARP.

To honor Older Americans Month, here are four senior-founded and led non-profit initiatives that prove our elders continue to lead in societal well-being.

  1. At 62, Janice Malone, business consultant and former franchiser owner, started Vivian’s Door to help Atlanta minority-owned businesses achieve higher success through corporate relationships and sponsors, community connections and networking, and expert knowledge and mentorship. Fewer than one in five small businesses is minority owned, with about 4% surviving the start-up phase. Lack of access to money, education, and contacts – as well as racism – are often the root causes preventing success.
  1. When Peter Jensen, M.D. founded the REACH Institute in 2006, he was well over 50 and had been a doctor for over 30 years. About ​​20% of children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. has a mental health condition; less than 30% get the help they need. The REACH Institute has trained more than 5,000 primary care providers in all 50 states to be “first responders” to children with mental health needs., closing the gap between science and practice.
  1. Instead of retiring, Jeanne Kelly, former opera singer and National Endowment for the Arts researcher, established Encore Creativity for Older Adults. Encore is the largest choral arts organization for adults 55 and over in the U.S; participation is open to those who have a love of music, whether they have training or not and regardless of physical abilities. Major studies have shown that community-based art programs run by professional artists promote health, prevent disease, and positively impact independence.
  1. A 21-year combat veteran of the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) community and retired Master Chief Petty Officer, Ken Falke founded the Boulder Crest Foundation because he believes that service never stops. His second non-profit provides free life-changing programs to members of the military, veterans, and first responder communities, including their families. About one in six Americans will experience PTSD in their lifetimes; for recent veterans, that number jumps to about one in every 3.5.

These non-profits underscore the proactive spirit of our senior population. They demonstrate that age is not a barrier to making a significant impact — in fact, it can be a catalyst for innovation and change. As we celebrate Older Americans Month, remember the strength and wisdom that the senior members of our community bring to our lives every day. Their achievements are a powerful reminder of the capabilities and possibilities each stage of life holds.

Categories: Aging Well, Senior Living