The Caregivers is a unique series focused on the challenges and triumphs of caregiving. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and Word In Black.

For more than forty years, Sekou Shabaka had a mix of titles in his career in government–from chief juvenile probation officer and school board member to a deputy commissioner of corrections and a playwright. At age 79, he co-founded the Shrine of the Black Madonna Sanctuary, a non-profit organization in Goochland, Virginia.

Now, he’s looking to expand.

What inspired you to start an organization?

It’s creativity or just plain old service. When I retired, I saw an opportunity to take all of those things that I learned working for someone else and to put my own unique stamp on it and see what I could do to make life better for others.

What’s your vision for the sanctuary?

We know the seniors out here who are not getting food. We know it’s seniors out here who have too much pride to go down to social services and sign up. We wanted to be an organization where people could hear our name and know that food is coming, clothes are coming, advocacy work is coming, loans are coming. 

Who helps out?

We have grandmothers who are taking care of their grandchildren. Some of the seniors are accustomed to serving–no matter how meager their resources. What we produce is exponentially away from how much money we have because we do the hard work.

What are you working on to expand the organization? 

I’m thinking about getting someone to help me with a bartering system; you list and you trade off–because that’s what it was before. What we’re doing is bringing them back in their mind to the same thing that they were accustomed to before — that you wouldn’t have to go to an official agency and sign up — that you would expect your neighbor to help you.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to start an organization? 

You have to have a belief system. You have to have a philosophy. You have to have a set of principles that guide you, first of all, because that will determine your performance, your behavior, your model, and the results that you want. 

What are some of the wisest words you’ve received in life?

My father told me — and bless him, he’s passed: “You can’t change the world, Sekou, but in your five-square-mile area in which you live, you certainly can make a difference.”