Beau Bassett: Outward bound to a full life of service

Series: Working past retirement in Alaska

Beau Bassett is 74 years old. He spent the past 27 years training over 1,000 students in community leadership across Alaska through the Points of Light Youth Leadership Institute (PYLI). visit:

What made you think about coming to Alaska?

I came up with this idea that I would combine my law background and adventure education, and I would aspire to create an adventure-based program. It all came together with setting off for Alaska. That was part of my sort of 10-year plan. I would like to be able to create a program that would work with young people, all kinds of diverse young people, and especially divert young people from the juvenile justice system where the law came in.

So that was an exciting possibility. I didn't know what it was going to require. But I had the experiential base working in Outward Bound. I had an educational background. I did get the law degree. What I discovered through experiential education was I was highly motivated around working with people, was really good at it, and by golly, I was really happy.

What happened when you first got here?

Well, I came here in August 1976. When I arrived in Alaska, I discovered the VISTA national service program. I was a Volunteer in Service to America lawyer for a public interest law firm.

And you've been in Alaska ever since?

I left Alaska in 1997 to work nationally in youth development and I had a range of wonderful opportunities. I found my way back to Bellingham, Wash., brought in by the PYLI [Points of Light Youth Leadership Institute]. At that point it was called the Prudential Youth Leadership Institute. I ran a training for 64 high school students from Whatcom County. It was a three-day experiential leadership training, teaching the skills and tools to do high-quality service projects.

And why did you come back again?

I had always realized I was going to come back to Alaska, so I introduced PYLI up here in the summer of 1997, and created an advisory committee-school district, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Girl Scouts-created a community network that might be interested in creating the first Alaska PYLI. The summer of 1998, in August at Birchwood camp, I become a full-fledged master trainer in this program as a volunteer. None of this is paid work. We offered it to 42 Alaska students diverse. And it was exceptionally successful.

Even though we've lost a lot of federal funding, Points of Light foundation has gone away, the spirit of community Prudential has gone away. I'm the last PYLI trainer in the United States. Wow. I'm the last one in the world. Which is to say that I've been in the fortunate position that it was my pot of gold. I have had a lot of advantages in my life. I don't have my own children. I don't have a spouse that's dependent on me. So I've been able to fully focus on how I can sustain the program. The other thing that has been sustained is the President's Volunteer Service Award. One of the things that people enjoy is being recognized.

When you turned 65 or thereabouts, why didn't you just kind of kick back on the chaise lounge as opposed to keep on doing what you're doing?

Yeah, well it's a great question. You know, I think from a motivation state, endpoints in life keys into what motivates us. Money is not a motivator for me. Recognition is not a motivator. For the material things that others might aspire to, I adopted a philosophy of simplicity. And I live below my means. Having fell in love with the outdoors and wilderness, there's a simplicity of living that goes along with that-whether it be comfort in sleeping in a tent or in a sleeping bag. More comfort comes from being in an environment which we come alive in, we're inspired by. Every day Alaska is that kind of environment for me.

Many of the readers of the Senior Voice are thinking about retirement, or they've already retired and they're thinking about going back to work. What advice or comments do you have to say to these people?

Well, I think, you know, in a nutshell, that's a career guidance question. And there's a traditional format for career guidance. This is three overlapping circles, that Venn diagram. The upper left, your interests, the things that make life interesting, things you do in your free time, things that you love to do, things that make you an interesting person. The upper right, your skills and abilities, what you're really good at, what you love to do, what your expertise is, what your mastery is, what's easy. And then the core circle of course, your values. What do you really care about? It's the intersection of the things that are interesting, give us great joy, with the things that we have mastery around, and that we can offer easily and well.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.

Author Bio

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.