There was a lot of good energy flowing at the annual summit of the Encore Leadership Corps, held this past Monday at the Maple Hill Farm Conference Center in Hallowell. A small fraction of that energy came from me, as I grappled with some technological difficulties and then led an hour-plus session on garnering media attention for volunteer projects.
The Encore program, a service of the University of Maine Center on Aging, supports Mainers 50 and older who want to donate their time and expertise in volunteer activities. Membership is free but requires a commitment to staying active in the volunteer community. Throughout the year, Encore offers its members webinars, workshops, a newsletter and other resources to get their projects launched and keep them on track. There’s also an active Facebook page. The annual summit, which this year cost a modest $15, brings members together for a day of networking, training, eating and friendly socialization.
This year, in addition to my session on working with the news media, the Encore summit offered morning and afternoon sessions on grant-writing, computer and Internet tools, conflict resolution and team dynamics. The day kicked off with a talk by Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, who provided a high-level look at the state’s economic status and encouraged his audience to work for changes that benefit Mainers of all ages and backgrounds.
In the late afternoon, the conference wrapped up with a presentation by geriatric psychiatrist Clifford Singer, who discussed the cognitive benefits of staying active and engaged — intellectually, emotionally and socially — as we age. Clearly, Singer was preaching to the choir; this audience was all about engagement.
In my session, I had a group of about 25 active, cheerful, participatory older adults, from communities all across the state, each involved in one or more volunteer projects. They were fundraising for libraries, organizing farmers markets, volunteering with Catholic Charities, teaching adults to read, restoring old churches, working with international university students, developing local aging-in-place strategies, growing vegetables for food pantries, teaching in Maine’s Senior College network, working with the Heifer International charity, and all manner of other activities. The buzz in the room was impressive as they shared their altruistic ideas and activities for improving their communities and the lives of their neighbors.
And then it was my turn. My goal was to provide them with ideas, examples and tools for publicizing their projects, which is important for successful fundraising, team-building, community engagement and overall enthusiasm. I dealt with my self-inflicted technology problem as best I could and launched into my talk. It included a crash-course in different types of news content, suggestions for engaging the interest of a busy reporter or editorial writer, and a demonstration of how to write and post an online calendar event or story of their own about their project.
We talked about the importance of great photos and videos and some of the ways news outlets like the Bangor Daily News are finding to adapt to the massive disruptions brought about by digital technology and the rise of the Internet. Their apparent interest in what I had to say came as no surprise; this group of baby boomers was primed for learning and motivated to pick up new tools for the success of their projects.
Like most reporters I know, I am at heart an introvert and a little self-conscious. Public speaking makes me anxious, but it gets easier each time, so now I just pull on my big-girl panties and step up to the podium. I always end up having a lot of fun and learning as much from my audience as they learn from me.
The Encore Leadership Corps summit was no exception. I hope my group took home some useful tips for moving their projects forward with interest and coverage from the news media. I came away with a new appreciation for the optimism and can-do energy of older Maine volunteers and their dedication to making life better for us all.