Local men and women in their 60s and 70s are embracing new careers with the same drive that has motivated them throughout their lives.
Some, like Gary Kinsey and Geraldine
Douglas, are starting new businesses, after having had their entrepreneurial spirit stoked by FloridaWorks and other agencies.
Others are transferring skills that they’ve acquired over their lifetime to new positions. Among them is Elijah Hamilton, who lost part of his right leg due to a blocked artery in 2005 and who is now serving as a role model for the men and women he helps as a disabled veterans outreach coordinator for FloridaWorks.
Still others are devoting themselves to helping others as volunteers. They include Bob Hudson, who retired in 2006 as the president and CEO of Santa Fe HealthCare and the CEO of AvMed Health Plans.
Douglas, who closed her business Utopia Chalet a year ago, is finding her purpose in selling wellness products through the ZANGO company and through community service
benefiting young professional women and girls needing assistance.
“I would feel useless without a purpose,” Douglas says. “I don’t know how people handle it.”
Among Hudson’s civic roles is serving as this year’s chairman of Santa Fe College’s Board of Trustees.
“I didn’t want to retire and sit at home,” he says. “I’ve had friends who didn’t do much after they retired, and they ended up with health issues.”
Finally, some seniors, like Skip Everitt, are turning their longtime hobbies into a vocation. Everitt has cut back severely on his work as a business consultant and launched a second career around his passion for golfing.
He self-published a book, The Back Nine: How to Play Your Best Golf EVER in Later Life, and he’s become the Oak Hall High School golf coach. He is also creating a network of other golfers who are interested in maintaining their game as they age and has developed a website with instruction videos and other information.
The drive to do a good job—and be of
service—is common among older workers, says a University of Florida business professor. “They love to work,” says Mo Wang. “They’re more mature. They’ve been through a lot, and that experience helps them do their job better.”
Wang, co-director of the Human Resource Research Center at UF’s
Warrington College of Business
Administration, is the co-author of the new book, Mid and Late Career Issues: An Integrative Perspective.
Many employers are mistakenly wary of hiring older workers, fearing they’re harder to train and not as energetic as their younger counterparts, says Wang, who was part of a research team that conducted numerous interviews and reviewed academic studies about senior employment.
Older workers can be intimidated by job-hunting and updating their computer skills, says FloridaWorks Executive Director Kim Tesch-Vaught. “They need some computer skills even to apply for jobs, since most applications are done online.”
FloridaWorks realizes that seniors can be uncomfortable in large computer classes filled with people of all ages. That’s why it offers computer classes for seniors only with the class size limited to 10 students.
“You don’t feel bad about asking questions if you’re in a small class with similar people,” Tesch-Vaught says.
Seniors not only can get
discouraged by today’s labor market, but also they can face a struggle with their health.
For Hamilton losing part of his leg was demoralizing at first, and job-hunting seemed futile. “I put in millions of applications,” he says. “My wife wouldn’t allow me to be discouraged. She offered me sympathy, but no pity.”
FloridaWorks programs helped Hamilton regain his self-confidence, improve his computer skills and learn how to present himself better when seeking work. He impressed the FloridaWorks staff so much that they hired him to help
Everitt’s health deteriorated due to a bout with cancer. As he recovered, he decided to apply the principles that he uses as a business coach to rebuild his body and get back on his golf game.
“I realized that many people could benefit from what I learned, so I decided to write a book and share my approach,” he says.
Hudson was experiencing severe hip pain when he retired from Santa Fe HealthCare and AvMed. “I hadn’t been getting much exercise the last 10 years before I retired because I often worked through lunch and had meetings into the evening,” he says. “I was afraid I would need a hip replacement,” he says.
Hudson discovered Pilates, and he continues doing its exercises. “I don’t want to be one of those people who fades away,” he says.
In addition to serving on the Santa Fe College board, Hudson is a member of the advisory board of Kaiser-Permanente Foundation Health Plan of Georgia, and he’s secretary of the board of the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.
He has returned to Vietnam, where he served in the Army on two tours during the Vietnam War. “It was cathartic,” he says. “Even the people I met who had been North Vietnamese soldiers welcomed me. I’ve come to understand that Vietnam is a country, not a war.”
Geraldine Douglas needed to find a new identity after a year of big changes—closing Utopia Chalet in July 2011 and her husband’s death in January. “I asked myself, ‘What am I?” she says.
The answers are coming, partly through the help of others and partly through her lending a hand to others.
Douglas’ biggest source of help was
FloridaWorks. “I’ve taken their classes, and I’ve learned a lot about myself,” she says. “I’m getting my confidence back.”
In addition to building her business as a
distributor for the ZANGO wellness company, she’s participating in the Professional Women’s Roundtable, a program of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, and volunteering for the PACE Center for Girls.
While some programs target seniors, others serve people of all ages. One such program is Start-Up Quest, which helps unemployed people of all ages who are college graduates learn to start businesses.
Kinsey’s experience in Start-Up Quest led him to form a team that has started a new
venture, North Florida Medical Solutions.
Two of Kinsey’s three partners in the business were on his team that worked on a business planning exercise through Start-Up Quest. As part of the exercise, Kinsey reviewed the many UF inventions that the Office of Technology Licensing compiles.
One invention caught his eye, a simple device to strap urinary catheter bags low enough on a wheelchair to prevent urine backflow, which causes infections.
“My background is as a physical therapist, and I had seen the enormous amount of urinary tract infections that improper handling of
catheter bags cause,” Kinsey says. “This behavior-modification device has the potential to save thousands of lives.”
Kinsey was receiving unemployment compensation when FloridaWorks representatives contacted him about Start-Up Quest. “At first, I wasn’t all that interested in it, but they kept bugging me,” he says.
Kinsey praises the support he’s gotten through Start-Up Quest. “It’s been lots of fun to network with an incredible group of people,” he says.
He had tried other business ventures in the past, but he couldn’t get them off the ground. “Now I’ve learned how to write a business plan, find a manufacturer and create marketing material,” he says. “I’ve never been surrounded by so many motivated people.”
Start-Up Quest has been so successful that the Alachua/Bradford Regional Workforce Board, the parent organization of FloridaWorks, has received a $12 million federal grant to replicate it in cooperation with seven regional workforce boards across the state.
Other Opportunities Available
Santa Fe College’s Displaced Homemaker program serves many seniors, focusing on women who have limited job experience, but who now need to earn money because of divorce or the death of their husbands.
Seniors with limited income can receive assistance such as a stipend and health insurance by volunteering through the RSVP and Foster Grandparents programs.
Among the programs at the Melrose Senior Community Center is Project Restart, which is funded through the AARP Foundation.
In looking for potential jobs for clients, the project team learned that companies that conduct telephone surveys were having a tough time finding employees, says program manager Melissa McGinnis.
“Many older adults are great at following a script, and they are dependable in their work habits,” McGinnis says.
Workers will be able to use skills they’ve gained over their lifetimes in staffing the call center. “Many of our clients aren’t sure what they have to offer an employer, but they have many skills that are transferable to today’s needs,” McGinnis says.