Every year, Sound Generations, a nonprofit community-based organization serving Seattle and King County, sponsors the Inspire Positive Aging Award program. Nominations of individuals who inspire in six categories come from community members (see Nominate Someone You Admire for an ‘Inspire Positive Aging’ Award in our May 2020 issue). Kudos to this year’s award recipients from the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services!
Dori Gillam, 68: Lifelong Learning
Dori is energetic, aging her way, and nothing short of inspiring. Dori leads by example by living life by her words and demonstrating what it means to age positively. Whether it’s climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or participating in the Womxn’s March with her friends, both young and old, Dori lives life to the fullest. She serves on the Age Friendly Coalition for Seattle and King County. She spends a good deal of her time speaking about aging and hosting presentations designed to shift how we think about aging and our older neighbors. Through humor and personal stories, Dori teaches that your older years don’t have to be molded by preconceived ideas about aging—instead, those years get to be molded by us with the support of community. Through King County Library System Wisdom Cafés, she ignites conversations about aging, even delving into topics that we usually don’t discuss when it comes to older adults. Dori encourages people to advocate for themselves because she’s seen firsthand the dignity that can be erased as you age.
Trudy James, 82: Advocacy & Activism
Trudy has dedicated many years to understanding death and grief in new and deeper ways. From 1989 to 2007, she directed programs for AIDS CareTeam, Cancer Care Alliance, and has served over 500 men and women who are AIDS care partners. Trudy is a credentialed interfaith chaplain and owner of a small business called Heartwork. At age 76, she tried her hand at documentary filmmaking and created Speaking of Dying, which coincides with her end-of-life planning sessions, annual retreats, and Grief, Loss, and the Holidays presentations. Trudy maintains her own Speaking of Dying website and Facebook page. Her offerings, happy demeanor, energy, and commitment to her work inspire many. Trudy says that getting older is a privilege and that her life is better than ever at 82. She is the oldest person in her yoga class. Her commitment to mind, body, heart, and spirit wholeness shows others what is possible for aging.
Mohan Khandekar, 77: Community Service
Retirement gave Mohan the ability to take his passion for volunteering to new heights. He spends 20–22 hours per week in volunteer activities and still finds time to be a loving and attentive family man. Mohan has been a lead volunteer at Northshore Senior Center; an information resource person for the SeaTac Senior Program; an assistant badminton coach at Kirkland Middle School and Lake Washington High School; a board member for the Kenmore Community Club; an audio/video, still photography, and graphics resource chief for the India Association of Western Washington; and worked with the Seattle Architecture Foundation’s youth and family programs at Seattle Art Museum. Mohan’s enthusiasm and good cheer is visible as he works with diverse communities. He is a living example of a person who has aged well and inspires others to do the same.
Val Brustad, 73: Defining Inspiration
Val leads a life that makes you think of aging in terms of impact rather than years. Having cared for his mother, who had Alzheimer’s, Val supported his wife in her role as an Alzheimer’s Association support group facilitator. After his wife died unexpectedly, Val trained to continue group facilitation in her honor. He communicates his beliefs about aging as part of a community and makes sure that no one is left alone. Rather than focusing on loss, Val focuses on the needs of others—on how he can step in and be service of others. Each person involved in the support group can attest to how Val’s words, vulnerability, and wisdom have shaped their perspectives on dementia, caregiving, and grief. Val’s influence and ability to leave a mark inspires those around him to be more forgiving of themselves and to get up and fight another day.
Shirin Velji, 81: Health & Wellness
Formerly a teacher in Tanzania, Shirin continues to mentor and inspire everyone she meets. She loves to inspire and help people of all generations, especially younger people. She brightens the days of residents she visits at Emerald Heights Skilled Nursing and Assisted Living, where she also volunteered to make masks for protection from coronavirus. Shirin has volunteered at the Fitness Center during their twice-yearly fitness exams, cheering for the athletes and welcoming the spectators. Shirin also worked for the South East Asia Operational Department to work on Urban Projects (roads, water, housing, etc.) in Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Her enthusiasm in her work is evident with the stories she shares and the lifelong friendships she has made. Shirin has dedicated her life to helping others, and it’s truly inspiring.
Sadru Kachra, 79: Community Service
Sadru grew up in Kenya and because of the living conditions he saw in those around him, he spent his whole life giving to others to improve their quality of life. One of his favorite projects, which he says was “heartwarming and satisfying,” was building two extra classrooms to a one-room school. Now that he lives in Washington, Sadru continues to spend his time volunteering at the library and the senior center. At almost 80, Sadru’s passion to serve others motivates and encourages many people in the community to give to the people around us. Sadru teaches the youth in his community to expand their knowledge outside of school and encourages them to go to college and to volunteer throughout their professional lives. Sadru had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa when, at a very old age, she came to Kenya to participate in a Lions Club project distributing rice to the poor. He says that meeting Mother Teresa inspired him to work even harder to inspire others.
Jessie Strauss, 82: Defining Inspiration (honorable mention for global reach)
Jessie is a life changer and leader, not just in her own community but around the world. Considerate, forward-thinking, vibrant, and always fun are words that describe her. Jessie takes leading by example to a new level. She has led 40 international Habitat for Humanity trips and five Habitat trips in the United States. Jessie is invaluable to everyone she knows. She is a wonderful listener—the type of friend everyone wishes they had—and has a special way of being inclusive. She can create community anywhere! Jessie takes great care of herself and stays active so that she can show how to age gracefully and continue to support her community in any way she can!
To watch announcement of the 2020 Sound Generations’ Inspire Positive Aging Awards, presented by Monique Ming Laven of KIRO 7, visit YouTube. For more information about Sound Generations programs and services, visit www.soundgenerations.org.