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Posted: July 11, 2013

Executive edge: Barbara Raynor

Helping Denver navigate health care

Lynn Bronikowski

On her 50th birthday, amid the cheerful wishes and celebratory notes, Barbara Raynor’s email inbox contained a note that moved her to take a stab at changing the world.

The email consisted of a job description for the managing director’s position at Boomers Leading Change in Health  – a grassroots volunteer organization dedicated to improving health and access to health care for people across a seven-county metro Denver area.

“Our tagline is, ‘It’s time to change the world again,’” said Raynor, now 53. “I’m proud to be a boomer and like being part of a generation that helped create an incredible amount of change; a generation that was not afraid to say, ‘This is not acceptable; we are not going to sit still for this.’ From civil rights to rock ’n’ roll, women’s rights and gay rights, we were right in the middle of all that.”

Raynor, a native of McAllen, Texas, majored in advertising at the University of Texas and spent 20 years at ad agencies before doing marketing for the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. She then went on to Denver in 2007 to become vice president of marketing and public relations for the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado.

“I learned a lot from growing up in a small town,” said Raynor. “There’s a sense that everyone needs to participate and help build the community whether participating in schools, churches and synagogues or other nonprofit activities. People got involved because if you weren’t going to do it, it wouldn’t get done.”

At Boomers Leading Change, she heads a small staff of three who recruit, train and place adults 50 years and older, as volunteers. They then help people navigate health care, serve as community health workers or become policy advocates. Since its founding in January 2011, Boomers has trained more than 200 volunteers who assisted 26,000 people.

“We primarily work with vulnerable populations, the medically underserved and communities of color who often have an even more difficult time navigating the health care system,” said Raynor. “We’ve got this whole generation of skilled people who bring a lot of life experience and work experience to our nonprofit.”

Raynor beams when she hears stories, such as that of a 71-year-old refugee from Burma who was taking health literacy courses when a volunteer noticed he sat quite close to the board.

“He was convinced he was going blind and our people intervened.  It turned out he had cataracts so our navigator arranged to have his cataracts removed,” said Raynor. “We also arranged to get 10 bicycles donated and he got one of them. So here you have a guy who thought he was going blind, now seeing better than ever and also having transportation. You’re really empowering people to be self-sufficient.”

Boomers is primarily funded by grants from organizations such as Rose Community Foundation, which in 2007 conducted a study that revealed 55 percent of individuals 55 years and older want to volunteer in their retirement years. But the downturn in the economy had an effect on volunteer numbers.

“In 2009 those people had to work. They couldn’t retire and saw their retirement accounts cut in half. In some cases they were taking on additional responsibilities like taking care of a loved one,” said Raynor. “So this population of people still exists but the realities of life and the need to have a day job have had an impact on how we do things and how they do things. We’re going to have to carve out time to enjoy life and pursue passions while we’re also working.”

Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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