Everyone knows Jim O’Neal. The former Springfield mayor and previous president and CEO of O&S Trucking Company always looked forward to a populated calendar. He not only accepted his jam-packed schedule but welcomed it with open arms. Retirement felt like a breath of fresh air at the time, but just a few months after gazing at his newly-empty weeks, O’Neal felt his sense of purpose slipping from his grasp.
“It was kind of a seismic shift,” O’Neal says. “You don’t know what to do with yourself. It’s a little disconcerting, and there’s only so much yard work and garage cleaning you can stand to do. There’s a nagging feeling there, because for my whole life, since I was 16, I’ve worked 40 hours a week and to not have a sense of direction or purpose on any given day [was tough.]”
O’Neal is not alone. Bill Griffiths, former owner of Farmers Gastropub, who also worked for the British government at one point, had the same disorientation when he retired in 2016. “I felt uncomfortable not having something to get up and go do other than yard work or golf,” Griffiths says. “It was just an uneasy feeling not having a work focus in life.”
These men are only two of the 10,000 baby boomers who turn 65 every day for a 19-year span across the country, says Greg Burris, executive director and co-creator of Give 5, a program housed in United Way that matches retirees with local nonprofits. The program began with the City of Springfield and now teaches students why the nonprofits’ works is important, and it aligns the retirees’ professional skills, such as accounting or marketing experience, to local charities. Burris says the program’s goal is to not only fulfill the needs of local nonprofit organizations, but to combat the social isolation and loss of purpose associated with retirement.
This sense of loss is usually unexpected, and simple tasks—such as sorting canned goods or cheering on runners at a 5K—usually don’t seem to satisfy those with profound professional skills.
“Retirement wasn’t sitting comfortably and what Give 5 did was give me a window into the opportunities that exist for retiring or retired executives, [or] people that have something to give other than stuffing envelopes,” Griffiths says.
Give 5 changed everything for both Griffiths and O’Neal. The Great Game of Business was looking for coaches who would focus on the social sector, and both men wanted to get involved so they went into Give 5 looking for prospective clients. What they found was astonishing.
O’Neal was part of the eighth class and describes the experience as serendipitous and rewarding. Griffiths participated in the fifth class of the program and was astounded at how oblivious he was to the scope of need in 417-land.
“Whatever you think you know, you don’t know the half of it,” Griffiths says. “It was a revelation. I’ve thought of not-for-profit work as being very mundane and always done by people who are mission-guided and not very business savvy. I had no idea there were so many not-for-profits in this town, and so much opportunity.”
As he toured the nonprofits with his class, Griffiths soaked in every bit of information he could. Harmony House and Isabel’s House stood out the most, so much so that his group volunteered on the spot to cook a meal for the residents at Harmony House. Eight group members spent a Friday at Griffith’s home prepping food in the former chef’s large kitchen. The next day, they cooked, delivered and served enough for 120 people.
The experience, and the five-week program, gave Griffiths a new perspective of volunteer work available in 417-land. He no longer correlated community service with simple tasks and realized the greater need he and his fellow retirees could fill with their professional skills.
Both Griffiths and O’Neal continue to work with The Great Game of Business as GGOB Certified Non-Profit Coaches, and continue to reach out to local nonprofits they interacted with through Give 5.
“There is such a huge opportunity to make a contribution to the welfare of the town and the people in it,” Griffiths says.