Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida Inc.

Danielle Hughes, 23, left, and Mary Lou Mills, 53, work together to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida Inc.

In its mission to build homes for the poor, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida Inc. takes full advantage of the age makeup of its community.

Many retirees who settle in central Florida have time and skills to contribute, says the nonprofit’s CEO, Jim Fischer. He knows well the appeal of working during the traditional retirement years.

In 2000 at age 59, Fischer retired after three decades as CEO for a youth services nonprofit in Minnesota. “That magic carrot out there – early retirement – didn’t fit for me,” he says. “I really like to work. I really like to contribute.”

After a couple of years as a volunteer board member for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, Fischer moved to the organization’s top job in 2002.

Since then, he has tripled the organization’s staff to nearly 30 employees, half of whom are over 50 - and half of whom aren’t, which makes for an enriching multigenerational environment.

Mary Lou Mills, 53, and Danielle Hughes, 23, often work together. “We rely on and depend on one another to get the job done,” says Hughes, an employee at one of the nonprofit’s four thrift stores. “Mary Lou has taught me to do a lot of new things and helped me to grow in my job.”

And Mills, who manages the stores, likes to see that happen: “I love watching Danielle grow as a person and mature into the woman I know she can be.”

Encore workers over 50 have come from a variety of backgrounds, including banking, retail, law and engineering. Mills, a longtime Habitat employee who has seen the affiliate grow, feels that those employees bring “a greater awareness of mission.” She says, “Older workers bring a calmness in the face of crisis and an ability to see beyond the short term. Their vision is greatly expanded.”

The 50-plus workers serve across the nonprofit, helping to coordinate volunteers, manage donations, oversee construction and handle other responsibilities. The growing workforce has contributed to an expansion in home building. When Fischer joined, the affiliate was constructing two houses a year. Now it builds 15 annually.

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter has impressed others with its age-diverse work force. Mark Hill, a longtime Habitat volunteer, has witnessed how well the generations mesh.

“You have young people working right alongside older folks who have a different take on life,” says Hill, a local circuit court judge. “When they’re all working together, they communicate with one another. They get to know one another. They get to know about each other’s generation.”

Fischer, now 68, hopes to bring more people over 50 into the mix with a targeted effort to recruit older AmeriCorps members, creating a pathway to new careers. “Don’t do it because you think it’s a good idea,” he advises. “Do it because you’re hiring people who have the skills that fit the job best.”

Fischer recommends hiring people of all ages who can grow. “Experience is a good teacher,” he says, “but I learn every day.”

For more information, contact Kelly Pisciotta, kelly@habitat-lakesumterfl.org, or visit: habitat-lakesumterfl.org