THE HAIR MAY BE GOING GRAY AND THE EYESIGHT DIM, but the yearning for social connection — for the touch of a hand, the sound of a companionable laugh — remains a person’s strongest need through the decades.
In some cases the longing for love can mean a willingness to do the unexpected. Like speed dating at 80. Or speed dating while on an oxygen tank.
United Way of Miami-Dade volunteers and staff discovered this when they launched Continue United, an effort to bring retirees and pre-retirees together to contribute their time and talent to the community through the local nonprofit. The interest in the dating scene is such that Continue United’s second event, a dinner-and-movie night scheduled for Feb. 2, sold out after a single email blast. The committee has started a waiting list for the evening, which is co-sponsored by AARP and the Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade.
“We were really shocked,” says Ann Machado, CEO of Creative Staffing and chair of the Continue United committee. “Next event we’ll need a bigger venue or multiple venues. I think the topic really did it.”
Indeed, the documentary “The Age of Love” chronicles the hilarious and, yes, poignant adventures of 30 seniors who attend a first-of-its-kind speed dating event for 70- to 90-year-olds.
Speed dating with a walker? Well, why not?
“People are interested in this, really interested,” Machado says. “I called people who signed up for it and they were talking about wanting to meet other people, even just for companionship.”
While the movie-and-dinner evening in Miami won’t involve any actual speed dating onsite, Machado hopes the film will encourage a robust and honest conversation about dating in later life. As older adults leave the workplace, many find themselves at loose ends and with limited opportunities to make new friends. Older singles also discover that the dating landscape is vastly different from that of their youth.
But so are their interests and priorities. The movie, Machado said, shows that physical attraction, while still important, is not the end-all be-all of the past. “The takeaway is that appearance, how the person looks on the outside, is just not as important as what’s inside. But what’s inside is hard to figure out from a picture on a dating website.”
The idea to create Continue United was born after a national conference last year, when United Way executives realized that as baby boomers were retiring, their contributions to the nonprofit were falling — namely because most of the money that comes in is through payroll deduction. Machado put a committee together, drawing from a variety of retired and pre-retired United Way volunteers, to encourage older adults to continue contributing — and not just with money.
“The amount of talent sitting on the couch watching Ellen DeGeneres is astounding,” Machado said, adding that the older generation is “an asset waiting to be tapped.”
Miami was a natural site for experimentation. The county is home to the largest number of older adults in Florida, according to the United Way, with more than 500,000 people over the age of 60. That population is expected to increase 30 percent by 2025. In addition, United Way of Miami-Dade invests more than $1 million every year to partner in programs that offer everything from home-based services to congregate meals to case management.
Continue United is an initiative that Machado and her committee envision as a resource for the community. The initiative pairs older volunteers with a range of volunteer opportunities. In return, the volunteers benefit from staying socially engaged. Numerous studies have shown that volunteering promotes better mental and emotional health.