Barbara Owens: Retired but Just Getting Started

July 2017

With her retirement approaching, Kaiser RN Barbara Owens began preparing to spend more time as a volunteer. She completed training for the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, where children in the dependency system are paired with a trained advocate who makes recommendations to the court about their services and placement. She trained at a local animal shelter to volunteer weekly with dogs.

As the months ticked away in 2016, she began wrapping up her 31-year career at Kaiser Woodland Hills. Then, just as retirement was so close she could already taste it, the country took a turn she hadn’t predicted. Like many Americans, when the polls closed on November 8, Barbara was stunned that Donald Trump had been declared the next President.

“Don’t just sit and complain. Do something, even if it is small,” Barbara says, a statement that could function as her unofficial motto. She is an inspiring example of why it is important to get involved in our communities in some way, be it as a conventional volunteer for a non-profit or as an activist for issues of personal concern. We don’t need to wait until retirement to do so, though Barbara says, “it does help if you have the sort of free time typically associated with retirees.”

When January 2017 arrived, Barbara was no longer exclusively the CASA and animal shelter volunteer. She was already an activist. While she has grave concerns about the direction of the country, she quickly realized she must focus her energies on a subset of key areas to avoid burning out.

It’s no surprise that access to health care is a top concern. She says it was not just her life’s work as a nurse that influenced her to become an activist in retirement, but primarily her work as a union officer with UNAC/UHCP. The key element was speaking for people who don’t have a voice. She’s even taken her voice to Sacramento, where she recently participated in a lobbying day for a health care organization.

Most of us have felt at one time or another that we’d like to do more for our community, but we simply don’t have the time. As Barbara’s example shows, it’s not what you do, but the consistency of the effort. When you don’t have a lot of time, give a little bit to make a call to an elected official or write a quick letter to the editor. When you have more time, such as in retirement, you can dedicate your life, as Barbara has done, to making the world a better place, one corner of Southern California at a time.