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When older professionals aren't ready to hang it up

A file photo of a man driving while

A file photo of a man driving while talking on the phone. Photo Credit: iStock

MIAMI - When Clarita Perez de Alejo retired four years ago from the corporate world, she traveled extensively and spent time with her grandchildren. Then ...

"I kept thinking, 'What else can I do?' " she said. "I felt I had a lot to contribute. I still wanted to help out."

Last month Perez de Alejo, 66, found a place where she can use a lifetime's worth of skills in the beauty industry. Through staffing organization ReServe, which pairs older executives and professionals with nonprofits, government agencies and public institutions, she began working at Braddock High School in West Kendall, Fla., helping college adviser Maria Mendoza with the task of preparing more than 750 seniors for the college application season.

Her duties are varied _ from answering students' questions to organizing the college fair _ and she loves it. "I already feel like I belong here," she said.

Mendoza, Braddock's college adviser, said the feeling is mutual: "She's been such an amazing help. Having her here frees me up to do what I need to do _ provide services to the students."

Perez de Alejo is one of 25 ReServists who have gone through three days of training in preparation for their post-retirement jobs. Sixteen of them are working as college mentors in Miami-Dade's public schools and eight are slotted to work in adult education, teaching everything from literacy to computer skills and resume writing. One works at Catalyst Miami, the community organization that brought ReServe south from New York.

Though the ReServists are figuring their way around new jobs, both students and advisers say these veteran workers provide more than a second set of hands. Their presence gives students a perspective on the real, workaday world.

"A lot of kids want to go into business and now there's someone here who had her own business," said Nichole Rodriguez, an 18-year-old Braddock senior.

Added Estafania Chavez, also a senior: "She can give us a perspective about what comes after college."

This first batch of ReServists range in age from 55 _ the minimum age _ to 82. Their work experiences are varied. One was a business owner, another a college executive. All share a common denominator: They want to stay active.

"The majority are not satisfied with traditional volunteering," said Dacia Steiner, ReServe Miami's program director. "They don't want to lick envelopes and make cold calls. But they miss the camaraderie of a workplace."

By placing them in part-time jobs that can use their expertise, ReServe gives them "an opportunity to go out there again and get engaged," Steiner added.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce is launching a similar program in Decmber with grant money from the Community Foundation of Broward. Called Chamber Connect, it will also match older professionals with agencies and companies that could use seasoned help.

Unlike other organizations that offer non-paying internships to retirees, ReServe jobs actually pay $15 an hour _ not a lot when compared to pre-retirement salaries, but ReServists aren't in it for the money.

"I was bored silly," said John Dubey, a retired corporate executive about why he works as a ReServist.

Dubey, 71, attended an information session sponsored by ReServe. "I thought it sounded terrific," he added. "It was what I was looking for."

Like Perez de Alejo, Dubey helps out a college adviser _ Ana Ros at Jackson High School in Miami. He's pitched in with the scholarship bulletin, organized the community hours requirement for students and registered seniors and juniors for the ACT college test.

"The way I look at is that I'm here to assist the (college) adviser in whatever way she needs," he said. "I'm not a manager but an appendage."

To which Ros, the adviser, added: "He's more than an appendage. He's such a big help to us."

ReServe was founded in New York in 2005. Since then the group has placed more than 1,900 people into part-time jobs.

Miami community activist and arts patron Deborah Hoffman read about the group and flew to New York to find out more about it. With the help of Ann Machado, president of Creative Staffing, and Daniella Levine, president and CEO of Catalyst Miami, they formed an advisory council to study the possibility of bringing the concept south. Catalyst Miami was interested in the idea because it met a community need: engaging older adults in meaningful services that strengthen the community.

The program, said Steiner, comes at a critical time in history. The leading edge of the baby boom generation, 81 million strong, began turning 65 this year. And as this demographic grows older, many will retire from their first careers with the hope of finding part-time positions that use their experience.

"We have a surplus of highly qualified, talented retirees and older workers looking to use their skills," Steiner said.

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