How I Spent My Summer Vacation – Service Style

Like most people will say, this summer has been totally unlike any summer I’m experienced.  Ever.  But against a backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, staying at home, the economic downturn and renewed passion for racial justice, this summer has been incredibly fulfilling,  I served.  I learned.  And I can say I had a lot of fun.

Supporting Older Adults with Technology

I started the period in April by  deciding that I would refocus the mission of my business.  The Senior Tech Club is my evolving entrepreneurial entity with a mission  to assist older adults with technology.  The change was simple.  In response to the COVID-19 crisis  I made access to hundreds of learning lessons free.  I  delivered 16 free live online classes during April and May helping older adults learn about their iPhones, Zoom, podcasts, books, photography and more.  During this stay-at-home time, older adults need technology to stay connected, engaged and always learning.  I wanted to help.  During this time, I made the programs and lessons of the Senior Tech Club FREE.   

This was only the start of my summer of service!

AmeriCorps

In May I was inspired by a presentation from ServeMinnesota and AmeriCorps.   You might recognize AmeriCorps as the national service organization that is often depicted as the domestic Peace Corps.  ServeMinnesota is my state’s AmeriCorps partner.  In response to the pandemic, ServeMinnesota was going to place over 200 AmeriCorps members with non-profit organizations across the state.  The Emergency Response Initiative was a ten-week program that would take place during the summer. 

I wanted to serve.  I saw the organizations that needed help.  I applied.  I was interviewed, background checked (I passed! Surprise?) and fingerprinted.  I was accepted. 

I was going to become an AmeriCorps Member!

This was going to be fun and different.  You see, the majority of AmeriCorps Members are young, college students or recent college graduates who are developing their skills and career paths while serving and seeking their passions. 

And then there was me, an older adult with gray hair, an encore entrepreneur who had retired from 35  years of corporate IT experience.  Like my younger colleagues, I was certainly seeking passion.  However, my career path was beyond help.  I wasn’t looking for any job. I was just interested in serving the greater good.

In the AmeriCorps Member community, I was a bit of an anomaly.  But I was proud to serve and I still smile when I remember the first AmeriCorps orientation meeting where the  Zoom gallery showed me among dozens of much younger AmeriCorps Members. 

Could this older adult hold his own as an AmeriCorps Member?

Working with SHIFT

One of the organizations on the list of Emergency Response Initiative participants was SHIFT.  SHIFT is a volunteer-driven nonprofit whose mission is to help midlifers navigate life’s transitions with learning and support programs on topics relevant to this  older adult community.  I was familiar with SHIFT and their programs.  I considered myself a SHIFT poster child after attending a few of their workshops and forums.    I had volunteered to teach technology workshops for SHIFT. 

I adore the mission of SHIFT.  Their programs helped me when I was “retired” from my corporate IT role at age 64.  But the pandemic shut down their in-person programs.  I was watching as they pivoted toward online programs.  

I was hoping to work with SHIFT but there were a number of organizations that I felt I could help.  I had a solid technical skillset.  During my interviews I learned that AmeriCorps members were already assigned to SHIFT and I would be assigned elsewhere.  This was fine.  I only hoped that I could use my technical skills and my teaching skills.   I felt that I had unique skills that many nonprofit could apply strategically.  

And then I was humbled and honored by the leadership of SHIFT.  When they learned about my AmeriCorps application, they actively campaigned to have me assigned to SHIFT.  And it happened.  

On June 8, I started my AmeriCorps engagement with SHIFT.  There were three AmeriCorps members assigned to SHIFT.  We called ourselves the A-Team.  And, of course, I was the senior member.  But age was not a factor in our work.  My young team members were superstars.  They were smart and passionate.  There was maturity and skills that surprised me.  As an IT hiring manager, these were the skills that I always sought to hire. This was going to be fun. 

For the next ten weeks, I felt that I made a difference.  I helped SHIFT pivot to online programs.  I helped support their programs.  I worked individually with SHIFT members.  I lived a good portion of my time in Zoom meetings and became a better Zoom expert.  I taught technology workshops. I delivered over ten Zoom classes to its members, helping them pivot to online programs.  I learned SHIFT’s email and registration system.  I helped plan SHIFT’s future platforms.  I gained a better understanding of the SHIFT community.  I got a glimpse of many of the challenges of nonprofit organizations.

 

And I had some fun and laughs.  The A-Team was a delight and fun to work with.  We joked about how we would spend our meager AmeriCorps stipends.  We had inside jokes about our work.  And SHIFT leadership was super appreciative and supportive.  And AmeriCorps leaders were always grateful and supportive.  

The whole experience was fulfilling.  I served the greater good.  Did I tell you I had fun?  

What’s Next?

More than ever, I appreciate that technology is essential to helping older adults stay connected and engaged.  The pivot that SHIFT made to online programming is a great example of midlifers and older adults gaining confidence with the tools and techniques to engage, be connected and learn.   Technology is a key ingredient to the future of organizations like SHIFT.  

The mission of the Senior Tech Club will not change as a result of my summer of service.  So more than ever, I believe in what I’m doing with the Senior Tech Club.  I’m energized and looking forward to the next phase in that effort.  My summer of service is not over.  Look for upcoming online classes, resume our News & Nuggets emails and more.  Stay tuned!

Thank you A-Team, AmeriCorps, Serve Minnesota and SHIFT.  We’ll see you online!