At an early age, I learned how misplaced a focus on money, property, and status over all else can be. When the Nazis occupied my home in what is today the Czech Republic, my very courageous and astute father had the guts to drop and give up everything on a moment’s notice, home, business, cars, a very comfortable lifestyle, to get me, my mother and himself, out of there in a very short window of opportunity. His belief was that money was to be enjoyed, but not clung to, not worth one’s life. The rest of my large family did not or could not follow his example, and paid for it with their lives.
By myself after the war, I left a destroyed and chaotic Europe for the United States at age 19 to start a new life. After serving in the U.S. Army in a cold war intelligence project, I became a businessman and entrepreneur, building a comfortable life of my own over the next several decades. At age 66, I started a small apparel manufacturing venture, intending it to be my “working retirement,” but 13 years later that kind of domestic industry had literally disappeared.
Now in my late 70’s and early 80’s, I found the industry had changed profoundly. From relatively small enterprises headed by visionary owners focused on quality, craftsmanship and concern for long-term and loyal employees, it had become one of huge importers and financial enterprises. I was witness to one very large apparel manufacturer, who closed a relatively profitable factory in a small Appalachian town, where literally every local man and woman had been employed, and shifted all their production to China, just to simplify their operation, eliminating entirely their HR department. That little town was left high and dry with no other industry or business, just like many other places, where that corporation and many others like them had been the major or even the only employer. I had become a stranger to this new, strictly bottom-line focused business world, and in any case, my age had made me unemployable.
It was a depressing and confusing time for me, and just then, the deepest recession since the 1930’s depression hit. It took some time and a lot of mental re-adjustment for me to find a new direction and outlet for my energy and imagination. I became familiar with Encore.org, the online journal of Civic Ventures. Their idea is to inspire people over 50 to change their careers and their lives, preferably with the purpose of doing good for their community. They award annually ten “Purpose Prizes” of $50,000 to $100,000 for the most outstanding second career achievers. They publish books dealing with the generational changes to come, since so many of us now live so much longer than any previous generations did. Much of it is inspirational, some of it can be intimidating, and some appears unrealistic in the real world. Their ideas and proposals are not for everyone.
However, through sheer luck, I also became familiar with a remarkable organization called ReServe Inc. For nearly four years, I have been a member of ReServe Inc., a New York nonprofit that pairs qualified retirees seeking meaningful and challenging activities, at a modest hourly stipend, with hundreds of local nonprofit organizations seeking help from professionals whom they could otherwise not afford. ReServe, founded by Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Rosenthal and Purpose Prize winner Herb Sturz, is now expanding its terrific idea to other major cities in the nation.
Through ReServe, for the past four years I have been the marketing director of The Blue Card a small Jewish charity that supports destitute Holocaust survivors. Given my experience fleeing from the Nazis, I have a unique connection to the people the organization serves. My work averages ten hours per week, and my main task has been developing new ways to raise significant funds, including organizing its charity marathon teams, a field I had previously known nothing about. I am extremely fortunate in my long term association with The Blue Card, as most ReServe assignments are fairly short-term, usually about three months, narrowly focused, and end when that particular task is done, or when the non-profit no longer has even the modest funds it requires. I have done such short stints with a micro-lender and developer of small business ventures for immigrants and minorities in Brooklyn, a small modern dance group in Soho (downtown Manhattan) who also have a summer program in the Adirondack mountains upstate, and most recently a domestic violence program helping victims and fostering awareness and education in the Latina community of East Harlem. Through this last association and the interest which it roused in me, I have become active in the wider field of domestic violence prevention and prosecution, and am now also the communications director of the Domestic Violence committee of NYWA, the New York Women’s Agenda.
As diverse as their activities and focus are, they all have one thing in common: the need to raise funds to keep up their good works, and the need to apply for grants. Consequently I took a grant-writing course with U.S. Government Grants, a grant-writing course given by the excellent Beverly Santicola, who was an Encore Purpose Prize candidate, and joined her Technology Grant organization. Of all the requirements and tasks I have faced in my non-profit experience, this was the one that required not just general knowledge of business, management, organization, and common sense, but specialized training, and it widened my field of activities.
Over time and to my amazement, I have become a prime example of what is possible to do and achieve at my age. Recently I have been asked to counsel separate individuals on coping with losing their jobs and careers and facing retirement with dread and no purpose. Contrary to my business experience, where almost everyone I ever had dealings with, was seeking to profit from, outcompete and best their colleagues and make more money, the non-profit field is full of people whose aim is to do good for others, a wonderful and refreshing change. In my mid-80’s, I have found a new life, I am on a challenging new career path, one that can lead to untold new adventures.