Sandra Mellinger had spent a career focused on serving old people, particularly in health care. But she knew that comfortable aging deals with far more than physical health.
Now, teamed with former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, Mellinger is working with subject matter experts to provide a wide-ranging Shaping Your Future series of workshops.
“Research says people start asking, ‘What’s next?’ at about age 50,” Mellinger said. “It’s not just about retirement. It’s about being lifelong learners. It’s about planning for a fulfilling life.”
Too many people end up worrying instead of planning to make a difference in their remaining decades, she said.
Her new Shaping Your Future programs are partly offered at Park University’s remodeled downtown Kansas City campus or at requested places of employment or community centers in the Kansas City area. The programs are affiliated with the National Coming of Age organization, sponsored by Presbyterian Senior Services and drawn from research at Temple University.
Mellinger has the Coming of Age KC franchise and said she’s happy to communicate with people in other cities about how to set up similar programs. Email her at email@example.com.
I was surprised when Mellinger said her workshops got off to a start with employer-sponsored seminars. Why, I asked, would older workers — perhaps already fearing being kicked out the door — sign up for a “next step” workshop connected to their place of employment? Wouldn’t that signal they’re looking toward retirement?
She disagreed, saying both employers and employees have gained a relative peace of mind through participation. Employers get a more engaged employee who isn’t consumed with “what next?” worries, and employees get a better understanding of future financial and emotionally fulfilling options.
Barnes is managing the integration of Shaping Your Future training into the Park University curriculum. Some classes, for which tuition is charged, can work toward degrees; non-credit and online classes also are possibilities.
Some of the training is what you might call touchy-feely stuff. Know yourself. Know your values. Know your interests. Know that you might have 30 or 40 more years of living: What will you do with it?
Other workshops employ lecturers on financial management, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, senior caregiving, elder law, tips for changing careers, managing divorce (yes, it’s common in the plus-50 crowd), end-of-life care, computer literacy and even something as specific as fall prevention techniques.
Most important, “We’re focused on community engagement, lifelong learning and what we’re calling encore careers,” Mellinger said. “Ten thousand people a day in the United States are turning 65. Many will keep working. Some think they’ll be happy golfing every day. After a while, that usually isn’t the case. We offer possibilities.”