QUESTION: A friend told me about a volunteer program in which neighbors help elderly homeowners repair their residences. Can you give me details about the program?
ANSWER: Your friend was probably referring to Christmas in April, a nonprofit organization credited with reviving America's barn-raising tradition by bringing together groups of volunteers to repair the homes of low-income, elderly and disabled people.Since the program's inception in 1973, 65,000 volunteers have helped paint, rewire, insulate and otherwise fix up - for free - more than 4,800 homes across the country.
Christmas in April volunteers usually complete repairs in one day, at an average cost of $1,500 per home. Local businesses, churches and other community groups often donate money and supplies.
The program is popular among volunteers because it "offers them a direct and targeted way to contribute to their communities," says Patricia R. Johnson, Executive Director of Christmas in April-USA. It's particularly appealing to people who are so busy they can only volunteer for a day.
The local programs - now in 40 cities in 16 states - operate independently, each governed, managed and administered by a board of directors.
People interested in starting a program or finding out about existing programs in their community should write to Christmas in April-USA, 1225 Eye Street, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005, or call (202) 326-8268.
QUESTION: I'm 60 years old and recently divorced. My ex-husband used to manage our money, so I know very little about investing. A friend advised me to invest more aggressively by converting some savings into stock, but my fear of losing money stops me from taking action. What should I do?
ANSWER: Many older men and women invest in only the most conservative instruments, dubbed income investments: certificates of deposit, money-market accounts and government securities.
Although such a strategy protects capital and provides income for living expenses, over the long haul it may undermine financial well-being because it doesn't provide a hedge against inflation.
In order to preserve their purchasing power, older folks need to invest in growth instruments as well. These include stocks and real estate, whose values rise and fall with changes in the economy. Although such investments are generally more volatile than income investments, their potential returns are greater.
Many financial advisers recommend investing a percentage equal to your age in income-producing instruments and the balance in growth investments.
Your investment portfolio should aim for 60 percent income-producing investments and 40 percent growth investments under this strategy.
For people who balk at the notion of risking their hard-earned savings, financial planners recommend slow, cautious action. Start with an ultraconservative portfolio and read all you can about investments.
Good sources of information include the business section of your newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine and financial-news programs such as the "Nightly Business Report" on PBS. Some advisers recommend you never invest in stocks what you cannot afford to lose, and that a mutual fund with a proven record of return is your best bet.
Send questions about growing older to On Aging, P.O. Box 84256, Los Angeles, Calif. 90073. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; individual answers cannot be provided.