November 13, 2010

Who's Leading?

I'm still thinking about the intersection of aging and grassroots grantmaking and want to continue the conversation that I began with my last post with this question:

If you're engaged in the type of "big thinking on small grants" that we describe as grassroots grantmaking, who's around the table, shouldering the leadership burden, in the communities where you are funding?

Here's who I see from my experience.
  • Even though I would never ask, my hunch is that most everyone I see is over 55.
  • I see people who have worked hard for years and "came home" to their neighborhood of origin, only to find that it has declined in years when they have been away.
  • I see people who transitioned into retirement to find that they were being pulled into unexpected, surprisingly demanding, non-paying jobs as block captain, neighborhood watch coordinator, urban garden manager, neighborhood association president/secretary/treasurer, after-school guardian, community historian, or community welcome-wagon-leader.
  • I see people who are juggling their dreams of their next chapter with unanticipated, real-life demands of raising grandchildren, great grandchildren or other people's children, all this while they're also while caring for their elderly parents, aunts, or uncles and managing their own health-related challenges.
I see Ms. Howard, Mr. McCollins, Ms. Bowe, and the group of gutsy women who mentored me and taught me the ropes of active citizenship in my own neighborhood.

I can remember conversations about the heavy weight of responsibility that these older leaders felt and their frustration that no one would help, when in reality there were others who were eager, not just willing, to contribute - just not in a way that the older leaders could recognize or accept.

When we talk about engaging older adults, I don't want anyone to forget how deeply older adults are already engaged in communities that have been labeled as troubled by outsiders. I don't want older adults to show up on our broader radar screen as people in need of services without a clear recognition of the essential contributions that they can make and are making already.

When we look at needs, I also want us to recognize the challenges and sacrifices that older adults are making when they step forward and contribute as community builders and courageous leaders. I want the leadership training that we offer or prescribe as grantmakers to be respectfully designed with real knowledge about these challenges and sacrifices. I want us to know that when we are pushing "sustainability" and we're talking to older adult leaders, we may be sending unintentional reminders to these important community builders that their clock is ticking and that their days as contributors are coming to an end, with no option other than joining the ranks of the marginalized elderly in the down-the-road picture. I want the work that we do to help expand those options and change that picture.

I want those of us in the grassroots grantmaking world to really look at who's leading, and if you see what I see, I want to hear a stronger acknowledgement that we are indeed already funding aging - productive, healthy, contributing aging - after all.

And when you see what I see, I hope you'll check out the info on Grassroots Grantmakers' new EngAGEment learning circle and imagine the possibilities for approaching this critical issue for community vitality through the grassroots grantmaking lens.

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