US government should help 'make volunteering a natural part of later life' says expert
03 March 2005

Washington D.C.: In preparation for the upcoming 2005 White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA), experts say that the US government "needs to expand and create institutions that make volunteering a natural part of later life," during a forum held at the Washington University in St. Louis, USA.

"The idea of volunteering and civic service offers a positive vision of the potential of baby boomers: older people should be involved in “meaningful roles that contribute to their communities and preserve their health and well-being”," says Nancy Morrow-Howell, Ph.D., a productive aging expert and the Ralph and Muriel Pumphrey Professor of Social Work in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.

The leading edge of the baby boomers will begin to turn 60 within two years, and for the next three to four decades, the 60-plus population will be significantly larger than today. This year's conference will focus on opportunities and challenges presented by the "new" 60-plus population of 78 million, as well as consider issues that impact the mature older population.

Amanda Moore McBride, Ph.D., a civic engagement expert and assistant professor of social work at Washington University, stated that an inclusive approach to service is necessary. She suggested a focus on increasing access, incentives and facilitation for all older adults interested in community service.

"If volunteerism has positive benefits for communities as well as older adults, then creation of opportunities is a social justice issue," McBride says. "The call for greater voluntary action among older adults has been criticized as elitist and perhaps only applicable to those of privilege with 'free' time. A central challenge is to develop ways of leveraging engagement by all older adults who have the interest to do so."

Once a decade, the WHCoA makes policy recommendations to the president and Congress. In the past, the conference has spawned programs such as Medicare and the National Institute on Aging. The 2005 conference, to be held Oct. 23-26, is intended to produce recommendations to guide national aging policy over the next decade through 2015.

St. Louis played a significant role in shaping the discussion at the upcoming WHCoA through a public forum last month on "Maximizing Civic Engagement of Older Adults." Washington University's School of Social Work and Center for Aging hosted the forum, which was designated an official WHCoA event.

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