Encore Careers | combine purpose, passion and a paycheck

Posted 04/23/2009 – 05:38:35pm by Terry Nagel

It seemed like an unlikely occupation for a 72-year-old woman who recently retired from a career as a marriage and family therapist. But Lee Verner of Durango, Colo., recently spent the day crawling around rocks, raking dirt and covering up unauthorized roads created by off-road vehicles in the Utah wilderness.

After restaking her tent, which blew away once, she climbed into her thin sleeping bag with one thought: “I have never been happier in my life!”

Verner belongs to Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a group that began in 1989 with a few women assembled around a kitchen table and now boasts 3,500 members. The goal of these members – a few of whom are men – is environmental activism. You can read about them and other environmental heroes over age 50 in AARP Bulletin Today.

Verner told AARP reporter Rob Gurwitt, “I feel so passionate about doing this that whatever I can do with what time I have left, I really want to do it.

One longtime member from Florida, JoAnne Valenti, explained that the group is not into “eco-tactics” but, rather, “You investigate what needs to be done, who’s responsible and talk to them about whether they are willing to work with you to do that.”

Gurwitt cites other environmental activists in encore careers, including Joe James, who received a 2008 Purpose Prize for his Greening of Black America initiative in South Carolina that is helping African-American farmers sell local produce and participate in the green economy.

He also recognizes 2007 Purpose Prize winners Sally Bingham and Richard Cherry, who run the Interfaith Power and Light campaign and the Community Environmental Center in New York City, respectively, and 2006 Purpose Prize winner Barney Flynn, a retired Northern California farmer whose River Partners restores habitats along the state’s waterways.

Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures, attributes the enthusiasm to boomers who founded Earth Day and expanded environmentalism earlier in their lives. Now, he told Gurwitt, they are “looking back at where things stand and feeling a great sense of urgency and some sadness at this prospect of leaving the planet worse off.”