Leal Portis and the Changing Face of Volunteerism

Unless you live in Northern California's Nevada County, you probably have never heard of Leal Portis. An extraordinary woman by any measure, her long history of public service and volunteerism is quite inspirational. In addition to her involvement with local community organizations such as the Lions Club, the Interfaith Food Ministry, and Hospitality House, she is also active in the League of Woman Voters and Grandmothers for Peace. She shows no signs of slowing down, even in the wake of some medical challenges, including a stroke and lung cancer.

As she noted in a recent story about a local "Senior Volunteer of the Year" program, in which she is a nominee, Leal Portis is one tough cookie.

While I don't know Portis' age, nominations are only open to Individuals 65 or older, which makes her just one of many older Americans donating their time, knowledge, and energy on charitable activities. It wasn't all that long ago that elderly volunteerism was primarily done by women in hospitals -- aka "candy stripers" -- helping visitors find their way around, delivering books and magazines to patients, or manning the gift shop. Today, we're seeing elder men and women volunteering their time in a broad array of critical areas vital to the community.

Take Laurie Ahern, 61, for instance. A former journalist, she now dedicates herself to advocating on behalf of children with disabilities held in abusive institutions. The non-profit organization she founded, Disability Rights International, works to fight torture, train activists and change the lives of children in 36 countries. As a result of her efforts, abuse in orphanages in recognized as torture by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Ahern in one of six recipients of the 2015 Purpose Prize created by Encore.org, a non-profit group that recognizes Americans aged 60 and older for their innovative work to improve their communities and the greater social good. It was founded by Marc Freedman, a social entrepreneur who appreciates that people past midlife have valuable talent and experience that can be harnessed to solve of some of America's most challenging social issues.

Freedman appreciates the experience and knowledge that middle-aged and elderly Americans bring to the table. He is an advocate for Legacy Corps, a "policy innovation to support and mobilize a million Americans in their 50s, 60s, and 70s to dedicate a year of service to improving prospects for the next generation."

As the founder of CareLinx, the leading national home care agency whose mission is to keep America's elderly safely and comfortable in their homes so they can continue to lead meaningful lives, I wholeheartedly support Encore's efforts. While corporate America increasingly sees little value in America's aging demographic, there is great truth to the old adage, "There is no substitute for experience." Folks like Leal Portis and Laurie Ahern, and organizations like Encore, are truly making America a better place.