Tapping a ReServe of experienced, older talent

Hopewell, N.J., resident Tom Seessel works for ReServe.org, which employs retired executives. Seessel describes the group as a "Match.com for nonprofits."

Are you 55 or older? Want to give back to the community, plus earn a $10-an-hour stipend?

Then you might want to join the ranks of ReServeInc.org, an organization that pairs nonprofits and public agencies with older professionals, which it calls ReServists.

Soon-to-be seniors use their skills, experience, and talents for the greater good.

Robert Kennedy, 80, a retired geriatrician, now serves as a team adviser for ReServeInc.org's dementia-care coaching program, commuting from his weekend home in Milford, Pa., to his work for the organization in New York City.

"Dementia coaches are a brand new program," he explained. "These folks are not caregivers or companions. They are one-on-one coaches for the families of those with dementia, to help them cope with the dementing person's illness."

ReServeInc.org assignments can range from time-limited projects that allow ReServists maximum flexibility and require them to hit the ground running, to longer-term or ongoing work that involves training and requires greater time commitments.

Kennedy, for instance, previously ran two teaching programs in geriatrics and had cut back to two days a week at the hospitals where he worked.

"I was getting used to having time on my hands, and one of the geriatric nurses I worked with told me about it, so I joined ReServeInc.org in 2012," he said.

Currently, he trains and oversees 21 dementia coaches, who work with families to help sick people take their medication, for example.

One of his coaches faced a "fascinating case," Kennedy recalled.

"An elderly couple, fairly affluent, in which the husband was a medical professor and had major dementia. They already had 24-hour home care, and he wouldn't bathe or go into the shower," Kennedy said. "Our dementia coach made an appointment, and said, 'I'll go into the shower with you,' to the husband. That's something home-care attendants don't do. At that point, his wife was prepared to admit him to a long-term-care nursing home. This solved the issue."

ReServeInc.org was the brainchild of veteran newspaperman Jack Rosenthal of the New York Times and activist Herb Sturz, who cofounded it in 2005.

More than 10 years later, the new chair of ReServeInc.org is Michael Weinstein, who currently works at the Robin Hood Foundation. Originally from Philadelphia, Weinstein used to head the economics department at Haverford College.

Most ReServists work in one of several capacities:

"Give back, fill the gap." ReServists use their professional experience to help agencies stay on mission. Opportunities in this category require specific skill sets, and can be short-term or ongoing.

Impact initiatives. ReServists from varied professional backgrounds help solve big social problems. For opportunities in this category, they receive training to do work that often involves direct service.

AmeriCorps initiatives. ReServe has partnered with AmeriCorps, a civic-engagement program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, to create more than 100 AmeriCorps ReServist direct-service opportunities in New York City and Miami.

Partners pay ReServe a modest, flat hourly rate that includes the ReServists' $10-an-hour stipends and payment to third-party employers. ReServists are not on the payroll. Currently, for example, the Transition Network in Philadelphia is looking to hire a ReServist in its New York office, a spokeswoman said.

ReServist Tom Seessel lives in the Princeton area. He joined last year, and his first assignment has been working internally at ReServeInc.org, "helping us think through the model for ReServe's national expansion," said Laura Traynor, the organization's director.

"He led the Ford Foundation in capacity building so was a great fit for us," she said.

Seessel, 78, of Hopewell, N.J., was also CEO of two New York-based national nonprofits, Seedco and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency. A former trustees chair at Thomas Edison State University, he said ReServeInc.org "is like Match.com for nonprofits and professionals."

Unlike the Service Corps of Retired Executives, or SCORE, which works under the Small Business Administration, "ReServe is broader," Seessel said. "You don't have to be a business executive, and you'll still be placed with a nonprofit. It's a way to help older people do good work in the community, and I don't know of an organization that works on this scale."

Why should others join ReServeInc.org?

"We are retired, but still have our wits about us and want to do something worthwhile. ReServeInc.org really pays attention to that, and finds something useful and satisfying."