Working for Yourself at 50-Plus
A New AARP-WACIF Program Supports Older Entrepreneurs
By Christine Rushton
Community members who are 50 years old and up can soon get free help starting their own business venture in the District. A new “Work for Yourself at 50+” pilot program will launch in December through a partnership between the AARP Foundation and the Washington Area Community Investment Fund Inc. (WACIF). From December until April 2017, WACIF will use grant funds received through the partnership to host workshops and to work with people one-on-one who want to set up a business plan for their idea. Participants will have access to the program’s interactive online toolkit and website.
The program is geared toward low- to mid-income residents, said Jeremy Cullimore, WACIF director of communications. It is open to interested adults in the 50-plus age group from DC, Arlington, Alexandria, and Montgomery County. “A lot of older Americans have this wealth of knowledge,” Cullimore said. “But transferring that into starting a business is a whole other challenge.”
AARP Foundation’s National Movement
The AARP Foundation started researching the need for guidance on entrepreneurship for older adults in 2012, explained Donna Ortega, program manager of Work for Yourself at 50+. Based on conversations, the foundation started to develop a program to provide localized, in-person support for lower-income adults. “Creating and owning a business or working for oneself has long been heralded as a path to financial success and economic mobility,” Ortega said. “And the advent of new technologies combined with changing economic circumstances and demographics has widened the array of self-employment opportunities available to people of all ages.”
It costs participants nothing to receive help at the workshops. The funds come from The Hartford, a financial services, insurance, and mutual funds group based in Connecticut that is funding more than 7,000 participants in nationwide programs through the AARP Foundation.
The foundation wants each participant to succeed in self-employment to increase their own financial stability and the economic stability of the community, Ortega said. The program’s leaders searched for cities with low-income older adults who may benefit most from Work for Yourself After 50+.
About 28 percent of the District’s population is 50 and older, and about 15 percent of that population remains below the poverty line, according to a 2015 report from the American Community Survey. “Work for Yourself at 50+ will introduce … low-income adults aspiring to work for themselves to community-based organizations such as WACIF,” Ortega said. “And in turn will help those organizations like WACIF make further inroads into low-income areas of Washington, DC, where the demand … for such services is high.”
Giving Older Adults a Fresh Path
Many older adults have started turning to opportunities for self-employment, said Melissa Houghton, executive director of Women in Film & Video in DC. Her organization helps guide those interested in producing screen-based media, and has recently seen an uptick in calls for help from older adults. “We find that we have more and more requests from people who are 50 plus, from people that want to make the video they always wanted, asking, ‘How am I going to do it?’” she explained.
The Work for Yourself at 50+ pilot program could encourage people to call for guidance and more support, Houghton said. She has experience with WACIF and trusts it to handle this latest program. “For people it will be a new way for them to make money,” she said.
Ortega said the program is designed not only to give seniors access to workshops through April, but also to connect them to the District’s numerous organizations to continue getting needed help – resources like WACIF. “The AARP Foundation hopes to strengthen partnerships and create linkages between micro-business development organizations and workforce programs, two important support structures that provide vital services to struggling adults,” she said.
The AARP Foundation hopes that the program can also build local communities and economies, Ortega said. “At the community and systemic level, AARP Foundation hopes to see an increased awareness of and capacity to better serve low-income 50-plus adults at micro-business, educational and social service organizations,” she said.
Cullimore and the team at WACIF have the expertise in small-business development, and have been working in the sector for several years in DC. AARP brings the knowledge of the older adult population, and WACIF brings depth of knowledge on entrepreneurship.
Logistics for the Pilot
Each workshop will take place in different locations to accommodate the region’s population. Cullimore said many will likely take place in Southeast and Southwest DC. The first meeting is on Dec. 13 at the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Small Business Resource Center (1100 Fourth St. SW).
“About 26 percent of all recent startups are from people between he ages of 55 and 65, an uptick that we’ve seen,” Cullimore said. “It is something that people are doing, so having a resource geared to that population is a smart thing to do.”
After the workshops, WACIF staff and local experts working pro bono will follow up with the participants to connect them with the relevant resources and community partners, he said. An assessment after the pilot finishes in April will determine whether the program will be continued.
Praise for Entrepreneurial Development
Local business owners, community partners, and representatives have responded favorably about the program since its announcement on Nov. 14, said Cullimore. He’s received phone calls acknowledging the need for a resource like this and requests for more information on how to direct interested community members. “People are saying they love the idea of the program,” he said.
Seniors have experience, knowledge, and leadership to share, said At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman. Silverman chairs the DC Council subcommittee on workforce and considers older adults an untapped resource in the local economy. She hopes that the AARP Foundation and WACIF can harness that potential. “Making sure our older residents have equal access to launching a business is essential to making sure our local economy continues to grow and thrive,” Silverman said.
This article appeared in Capital Community News, December 11, 2016