This year’s Older Americans Month theme—Communities of Strength—recognizes that “older adults have built resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys, and difficulties. Their stories and contributions help to support and inspire others. This Older Americans Month we will celebrate the strength of older adults and the Aging Network, with special emphasis on the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities.”
The COVID pandemic has stretched and challenged us all. We have tapped into strengths and resilience we didn’t know we had. And in the process, we have stepped up to help. We stand in the gaps when others need support. We stay connected socially, intellectually, and creatively. We make our communities and ourselves stronger as a result. Following are local stories of older adults who are doing their part and more.
Building strength and community
The pandemic hasn’t stopped AgeEngaged! Founder Dori Gillam from her routine of daily three-mile urban walks. Prior to COVID-19, Dori walked—rain or shine—with different friends. Now they mask-up and stay physically distanced on their adventures. The locations vary, including Green Lake, Discovery Park, Seward Park, Alki Beach, Myrtle Edwards Park or Golden Gardens/Shilshole.
Dori shared, “On our walks we talk politics, mindfulness, social justice, movies, books, ways to volunteer or give back, and a bit about family and other friends. And always funny stories or jokes. These walks are good for the heart (both the physical organ and the poetic heart) and soul.”
Dori is also an avid hiker and member of The Mountaineers. Recently she led a Mountaineers’ hike to the Bullitt Fireplace Trail. The group experienced sun, hail, adventure, physical activity, and meaningful connection.
Rebecca’s Kitchen and Meaningful Connections
Rebecca Crichton, executive director of the Northwest Center for Creative Aging (NWCCA) was once a caterer, recipe developer, and food writer. She channels her love for food and cooking through a quarterly food column she writes for 3rd Act Magazine (see Nourish Your Body). She also shares delicious, seasonal recipes on the NWCCA website under Rebecca’s Kitchen. Keeping those of us who want to stay engaged creatively is at the core of the work of NWCCA. The website offers a rich catalog of reflective essays and relevant articles by local writers. The Events page is a thoughtfully curated list of a variety of virtual programs in the larger community.
Rebecca’s personal pursuits are similar to her professional pursuits, as she reflected in a recent e-mail exchange: “My overall purpose, both personally and professionally, is to help people connect with their own lives in new ways, to further engagement and discovery during these demanding times, and to be of service in whatever way that looks to each person.”
Intergenerational engagement and discovery
Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once reflected, “Connections between generations are essential for the mental health and stability of a nation.” I concur, especially in this challenging time. SilverKite Community Arts helps bridge these essential connections through its intergenerational programs, offered through libraries, schools, and other local organizations.
When the pandemic put a hold on in-person gatherings, SilverKite founder Jen Kulik and her team shifted to virtual programs. King County Library System (KCLS) and The Seattle Public Library both offer SilverKite’s intergenerational arts workshops through Zoom. The workshops include creative experiences like Bollywood dancing, storytelling, making newspaper planter pots, and fiction writing, to name a few.
Strengthening communities is at the heart of SilverKite’s work. Another SilverKite intergenerational program that shifted to a virtual format is Writing Life Stories. Through the program, 8th graders learn interviewing skills and how to write life stories. The final project culminates with a presentation of a life story and a diorama that the student team has created for the older adult with whom they were partnered.
Stronger communities through service to others
During the pandemic, the economic disparity that exists in our country has become more evident. It’s prompted a deeper awareness of how others are struggling. My dear friends, Sonia and Kathleen, and I (that’s us in the photo at top, pre-pandemic) have always been active volunteers in service to others. Since the pandemic, we have increased our contributions by sewing face masks for family, friends, neighbors, and organizations; packing shelter lunches; making meals for Tent City; donating to area food banks; and assembling hygiene kits and contributing to holiday meals for Recovery Cafe.
Kathleen and I recently heeded the call to knit scarves, hats, and blankets for Wellspring Family Services’ Baby Boutique. I planted and cultivated seed starts for Nurturing Roots Farm. Kathleen and Sonia have also stepped in as childcare support to family and extended family when daycare and school options paused during the pandemic.
What’s your story of strength and community?
It’s encouraging to witness and experience new ways of doing things, meeting needs, and stretching and refining how to help others to stay connected, engaged, encouraged, energized, fed, safe, and heard. While COVID-19 has challenged us, it has also made us stronger. I hope these examples offer inspiration.
You likely have stories of your own to share! If so, I encourage you to find ways to tell those stories and to continue as a ray of hope to others. It truly does take us all to build “Communities of Strength.” We olders* offer, in many respects, the framework around which reliable, resilient, and strong connections and communities are built.
*“Olders” is a term proposed author by Ashton Applewhite that I love and use frequently in place of “senior citizens.”
Contributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, a care management, consultation, and creative engagement practice based in Seattle. She is a member of the Age Friendly Coalition for Seattle and King County and serves on the Advisory Committee of the Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Programs and the Marcomm Council of the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter.