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The Transition Network helps women '50 and forward' navigate second act of life

New members arrive and sign in for The

New members arrive and sign in for The Transition Network's new member tea, hosted at the home of Carol Levatino in Huntington in November. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

How do women deal with the uncertainty, anxiety and turmoil that come with the first day of retirement and beyond? They could avoid it and keep working well into their 80s.

Or they could connect with The Transition Network to help them navigate the end of their decades of daily routine, easy sense of purpose and the social networking offered in the workplace.

The national “community” of women “50 and forward” has 13 chapters, including on Long Island, in Philadelphia, South Florida and San Francisco, that act as a safety net, providing women with new purpose, new connections, leadership, lifelong learning, support systems, and inclusion and diversity. Members call it “TTN.”

How it all began

A nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, TTN was founded in New York City in 2000 by two former corporate executives, Charlotte Frank, who died in 2015 at the age of 80, and Christine Millen, 75, now an active member of the Advocacy Council for the Citizens’ Committee for Children in Manhattan

Frank, whose last position was as director of contracting and procurement of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Millen, an IT professional, were moved to reinvent traditional retirement by creating an avenue for women to continue to have an impact in the world, according to the TTN’s history. There are new executives leading TTN, but the mission remains the same: to be the premier national organization for women over 50 whose lives are in transition.

The Transition Network’s national organization, based in New York City, has 2,700 members. The  Long Island chapter is the largest nationwide, with 808 members (ranging in age from 60 to 79), up from 350 in 2013. The Long Island chapter includes members from eastern Queens as well as Nassau and Suffolk.

The Long Island chapter has nearly doubled in the past five years by word of mouth, the group's leaders say, though it certainly helps that there are more and more people growing into the 50-plus age group. According to a 2014 AARP report on Long Island seniors, in 2010 one in seven people living on Long Island were 65 and older; by 2035, that number is projected to be one in five.

Marlene Gerber, 76, of Great Neck, is the chair of the Long Island group, and Lindsey Draves, 68, of Glen Cove, is vice chair. The chapter, founded in 2006, also has a 10-person steering committee. Gerber joined in 2009, the year she retired, and Draves in 2010, five years before she retired.

“We are proud of our growth over the past five years,” said Gerber, a former chief executive of the New York Registered Nurses Association. “Word-of-mouth is the truest form of growth because you’re being recommended by very satisfied and active members.”

According to Draves, who implemented a membership survey in October 2018, TTN has an 85 percent renewal rate for annual memberships. “We have a lot of happy members who are spreading the word on TTN’s positive impact on moving them forward as they transition through retirement,” said Draves, who retired in 2015 as a vice president of GFK MRI, a media research company in Manhattan.

The other 15 percent drop out for various reasons, Draves said. Some move, others have increasing responsibilities caring for grandchildren. Some just aren’t comfortable in a structured organization.

“We have also been asked by our members if they could bring their husbands,” Draves said. “We have a hard enough time managing the organization as it is now. The men can form their own TTN,” she said with a smile.

Creating community

The Transition Network is led by an all-volunteer staff that works about 30 to 40 hours a week. According to Gerber, key to TTN’s success is its cultivation of leadership talent. “I knew Lindsey before she retired in 2015,” Gerber said. “With her credentials as a former VP of a market research company, I had to recruit her to help us with her expertise in marketing and marketing research.”

TTN’s core values are connecting and community — fostering opportunities to bring women together; leadership — developing new leaders through mentoring; lifelong learning — facilitating the pursuit of learning and discovery; inclusion and diversity — inviting women of all backgrounds, perspectives and experiences; and impact — challenging conventional thinking about aging and contributing to the greater community.

For the Long Island chapter members, there are two small group categories with different offerings: special interest groups (known as SIGs) and transition peer groups (or TPGs). Combined, the Long Island chapter’s groups number 125.

The special interest groups are member-driven, meaning each member is empowered to propose and start a group. The groups bring together members who share special interests. Examples of SIGs include book and travel clubs, canasta, mah-jongg and other games, dining out, gourmet cooking, golfing, and walking and hiking.

Transition peer groups, on the other hand, are small discussion groups that take on such topics as career transition, loss of a spouse and the challenges of aging. Although TPGs are meant to be supportive, they are not meant to be a replacement for professional therapy or crisis intervention, leaders say.

Events promote engagement

The Program and Events Committee and the Contemporary Social Issues Committee plan chapter-wide programs that are offered once or twice a month.

One such upcoming event is “A Day at the Mosque,” which sold out with 130 registrants. It will be held on Nov. 29 at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. Attendees will learn about the culture, ceremony, women’s roles and holidays of Islam. The event will be led by Dr. Isma Chaudhry with participation from Dr. Mufti Mohammed Farhan and Chaplain Seemi Ahmed. Traditional Middle Eastern food will be served for lunch.

According to Annette Kosar, current chair of the Contemporary Social Issues Committee and a member since 2014, “Our committee thought to approach Dr. Chaudhry to gain a more thorough knowledge of the Islamic religion and practices, and she wholeheartedly agreed and helped us with the agenda and arranging for speakers.”

Inclusion and diversity are always at the top of the group’s list when choosing a new event, according to Kosar. “We formed our first ‘Women in Religion’ Program on Oct. 27, 2016. It was comprised of five women panelists who each filled groundbreaking roles in their religion,” said Kosar, 72, of Commack, a former executive director of The Long Island March of Dimes.

Additionally, new members are given an orientation at the monthly New Member Welcome Tea, at which TTN's various groups and chapter activities are discussed. The most recent one was held on Nov. 19.

Other events in 2018 were a lecture by James Coll, adjunct professor at Hofstra University, about female U.S. Supreme Court justices; a trip to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; a presentation on the “Women Who Made New York”; and the group’s annual luncheon, held June 12 at the Crescent Beach Club in Bayville. At the luncheon, members networked, purchased items from vendors and dined. A gifts raffle that day raised $2,000 to purchase bathing suits, towels and swimming equipment so that children living in a Brentwood shelter could attend summer camp.

In addition, TTN’s Health and Wellness Council plans four programs annually that aim to educate women about such health and wellness issues as memory and aging, breast cancer, nutrition, and beauty and aging.

The Community Impact/Volunteer Committee introduces its members to TTN’s 10 nonprofit partner organizations, which include Island Harvest, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Book Fairies and the Family Service League (Brentwood shelter). According to Gerber, members can volunteer as much or little time as they want.

Another recent volunteer effort by the Long Island chapter was a donation through Island Harvest of 1,000 pounds of food for Hurricane Maria relief in Puerto Rico.

“Our members are very community-minded and giving people. The majority of our members are retired teachers and social services workers,” Draves said.

According to Carole Davis, 72, of Dix Hills,  a retired speech/language pathologist at Half Hollow Hills School District who was co-chair of the Programs and Events Committee, “My eight years as a member of TTN have been the most rewarding and enriching in my life. The programs and interaction with the members are unique and fulfilling. In particular, it was the different places that I visited while at TTN and diversity of women I was introduced to which I had not been exposed to in my previous career.”

Mentoring for the future

Leaders say The Transition Network is inten on providing for its future, both in structure and leadership development.

“We very often have discussions about succession planning, as well as organizational viability down the road,” Gerber  said. “Each committee has a vice chair who is second to the chair. We plan for succession that way, as well as developing members for leadership roles, using a planned program. For leadership development, we know that managers can be taught, but true leaders are born and often step up to the plate themselves.”

About the future of TTN, Gerber said, “We strive to keep the organization fresh and new . . . and try to find ways to build a better mousetrap, if you will. Our mission applies to women 50 and beyond. We have a continuous stream of Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z and millennials to draw from.

“In today's world of technological marvels, globalism and other rapid changes, we certainly can’t speculate where we will be in the next 20 years. But we do strategize at least twice annually, to assess, plan, implement and evaluate what came before,” she said.

How to join

Membership fees for the Long Island chapter of The Transition Network are $100 annually, or $190 for two years. For more information about TTN and open enrollment, visit thetransitionnetwork.org/chapters-long-island or email Pat.ttnli@thetransitionnetwork.org. The national group is hosting an "Online Welcome Orientation" for new members from noon to 1 p.m. Nov. 30; visit thetransitionnetwork.org/events for more information.

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