By 2030, it's projected that the number of people in Vermont over 65 will increase by 50 percent, thanks in part to the baby boom generation. And this generation of Vermonters is redefining what it means to be an older person in today's society.
In many ways, the Montpelier Senior Activity Center serves as a perfect example of how the baby-boom generation — currently in their mid-fifties to early seventies — is viewing retirement in a whole new way.
Janna Clar is the director of the center. She says her organization is trying to keep up with the diverse interests of its members.
With 1,110 members from Montpelier and several surrounding communities, the center always has something going on. They now offer dozens of classes including: several foreign languages, poetry, writing, painting, yoga, Tai Chi and music appreciation.
“The boomers really are showing up in great numbers here,” Clar explains, “we've seen an increase — not only in membership — but in demand for programming. So we've had to grow tremendously over these recent years to keep up with that demand.”
Clar says that means now offering over 70 classes a week.
Bob Barrett teaches one of the center’s music classes and serves as the chairman of its activities committee.
Several years ago, Barrett retired from a career at IBM. It was in a music class at the center that he reconnected with his love of music.
“You discover that there are things you might have done as a kid or enjoyed as a kid and all of a sudden you go, ‘wait a second, I have the time to do this now,’” says Barrett. “You can rediscover some passions that you had as a younger person and that's terrific."
In 2009, Maggie Thompson was in her late 50s when she decided to go back to school to get her MFA. Now she teaches a creative writing class at the center, which she says gives her students a chance to reflect on the important moments of their life.
"Some of them are really working through tough stuff that they've survived in their life,” says Thompson. “And they're able to do it through writing and sometimes there's tears and it gets deep really fast. It's really nice to work with this age group because they have such a big perspective."
This explosion of older Vermonters comes at a time when the state's population of people under 65 will actually decline.
This older generation could also turn out to be a potent political force: By 2030 these Vermonters will represent almost 30 percent of state's voters, and studies show that they are the group most likely to turn out on election day.
Monica Hutt, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, says it's time to look at this generation of older Vermonters in a new way.
"We need to build a new paradigm about human development and aging that recognizes the opportunity and the value and that recognizes the opportunities for a much healthier aging altogether,” says Hutt.
According to a recent report, Vermont is one of the top states in the country in the percentage of people over 65 who volunteer at nonprofit and other organizations.
Economist Tom Kavet says this could be a huge benefit for Vermont.
“They are also people that are giving back a tremendous amount to their communities so you have a phenomenal pool of highly skilled and experienced volunteers that can enrich communities throughout the state,” Kavet explains.
That pool includes people like Liz Snell.
Snell taught English at U-32 Middle School in East Montpelier for 33 years, and won numerous awards as one of the state's best Drama coaches. Now, she’s a frequent volunteer at the Montpelier Food Pantry.
"Nobody is coming up to me and saying ‘we know you have this expertise come help us, come to do this, come work with us,’” says Snell. “You know people kind of assume that because you're retired you're done and I hope I've got a bunch of years left."
Snell hopes that more organizations in Vermont will realize the value that many seniors offer to the community.
Aging Well is an ongoing special series from VPR exploring how the baby boom generation is viewing retirement and changing the future makeup of Vermont.