The trend showing increasing numbers of older adults represents a monumental shift for society. All communities are facing the same increases in the numbers of people aged 65 years and more. The Pew Research Center estimates 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 19 years. This is not confined to any one geographic area or any one demographic. At the same time, aging is an intensely personal issue. The topic of aging causes one to confront the issue of mortality. We are all aging, yet most share a persistent denial of that fact. It is not uncommon to hear someone saying they don’t want to go somewhere because it’s full of “old people,” despite being in their 90s themselves. In the end, perhaps “being old” isn’t so much about the number of years, but more an expression of one’s abilities, condition, and mindset. Here are just a few stories about seniors who are still looking ahead and aging in community.
Jeanne: I grew up in a family of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and two sisters. We were taught many lessons through actions, not words. You were respectful to the older generation and they respected you. You had your place in the family rules and duties. If you stepped over the line, you expected to be punished by losing a privilege; okay but fair! Phoenix was small when I grew up. Family and friends all watched out for each other. That has been pretty much the same for my children. We ran loose in the neighborhoods, now freedoms are limited. Too bad!
Jeanne: I have lived long enough to enjoy my great grandchildren and the many different generations.
Elke: My mom was an inspiration to me and still is.
Ralph: I have a wife who loves and appreciates me. I’m a better man because of her.
Anita: My children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren have helped me live this life.
Neil: These things help me to live my life: the positive outlook that I learned from my parents, staying healthy, living life with integrity, a strong sense of resiliency, respecting my wife at all times, and promoting the capacity to find the hope in the hurt and the good in the bad. My father instilled a strong work ethic, as I started working at age 10 delivering newspapers. I have typically worked one full-time job and held one or two part-time positions. But I balanced this with trying to be a good father to my adopted children and my foster children. I was a single father for nine years and learned the importance of being there for our wonderful children.
Carmen: We all leave our outside lights on at night. Also, we watch each other’s homes and pets for each other when needed.
Xiuzhu: 生活在凤凰城，可以去中国老年人活动中心参加那里举办的各种活动，如学习，跳舞，唱歌，打麻将等，且交通方便。— Living in Phoenix, the Chinese Senior Center gives many activities, including studying, dancing, singing, card playing. The transportation is good.
Lidia: I love my neighbors.
Ralph: My wife and I were homeless, living out of our car, sleeping in Walmart parking lots. Because we picked up trash around the area that we parked and never panhandled, security became very protective of us (even with police). We applied for social security (SSI), food stamps, medical, etc. So we never wanted for anything and grew closer to one another. We found that the Lord was watching out for us.
Mary: By becoming acquainted with lots of neighbors, we all share food, sorrows, and joys with each other.
Anna: I am connected to community through church activities and yoga. I teach Spanish to retirees. I am involved with a sportsmen’s club, lady friend luncheons, dancing, outdoor activities like gardening and walking. I am in a computer club. I enjoy reading good books and listening to good music.
Melvin: Volunteering at Benevilla keeps us young and this is a great organization that helps the communities in many ways. As one ages, if you do not keep doing things, you will lose your self-worth.
Lenore: I’m very involved as a hospice volunteer, a spiritual caregiver, taking part in physical and spiritual activities.
Mildred: Some people feel left out and are lonely because they don’t join in the activities that are available to them in the local clubs and their church. They could get to know more people if they were friendlier by volunteering and sharing their talents.
Ronald: My wife of 55 years and I have had over 30 people live with us. They have been family, friends, and strangers. We have been Senior Companions for seven years and have impacted many lives. It is a joy to be able to give and receive love and joy and happiness. It is a great life.
Mary: I wanted to make a difference.
Lester: Lester hungers for a better world. And for the past 35 years, he channeled that desire into feeding the poor. The 96-year-old La Loma Village resident and his wife, who passed away in 2009, helped establish a major food bank in Houston in the 1980s, he volunteered for several years at the Westside Food Bank in Sun City doing what he called “grunt work,” and more recently he’s helped organize food collection drives at La Loma Village to benefit St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix. But Lester’s longest-running hunger relief project has been the CROP Hunger Walk, a charity event organized by Church World Service to raise funds to alleviate hunger worldwide. On Feb. 24, 2013, the retiree participated in his 21st CROP Walk since the 1980s. Lester and a group of friends walked about 3K along the West Valley course. “I’ve been having some stability problems lately, so this year I used a walker and we walked the shorter distance,” Lester said. He used to log 10K for the event. Despite the challenges, his fervor for the cause remains strong.
“They do fabulous work,” Lester said of Church World Service. “This walk is a good way to support local and international hunger relief efforts.”
According to Lester, his daughter refers to him as the “most cock-eyed optimist” that she knows, and the label fits. At an age when most people are somewhat sedentary, Lester keeps plugging along, motivated by his zeal to help those in need. (He also is a strong advocate for public education). “I have to have a purpose in life; I can’t relax and let the world pass me by. Hunger relief gives me a meaningful purpose.”
Impact of Aging in Community
Caren: I am living independently, not having to answer to anybody but me. I am refusing to let my age stop me from doing things like getting out and visiting with friends.
Ramona: Before my divorce in 2008, I had never lived by myself or been responsible for all of my own life. There were always children or a husband to think of, often to my detriment. I find that I am loving making my own decisions, doing what I want to do without making excuses for it. I absolutely love my independence. I love my life and each year it seems to get better. My daughter is proud of me and the things I do.
Clarice: I am successfully aging by being in my own home doing the things I like to do.
Anna: Every day I feel that I must pinch myself to realize that it was not a dream but all is real: the support of good friends, proper diet, exercise, and a multitude of opportunities. What more can anyone need or want?
Curtistine: I did it my way, taking care of myself and being mindful of others.
Diane: I am aware of everything around me and I am able to think, respond, act and remember things.
Marie: I enjoy the freedom of being able to do what I want to do, live in my own house, and to enjoy the weather of Arizona.
Enrique: It makes me feel wanted.
Lenore: I can continue to do the things I enjoy. I enjoy helping others.
Tips to Age in Community
Xiuzhu: 每个生活在凤凰城的老人都需要适应这里的生活，每天坚持散步，积极参加中心的各种活动，如学习英文，电脑知识等，以便使自己能够独立生活。— As senior people living in Phoenix, we need to get used to the life here, keep daily walking and exercise, attend to the activities like learning English and computer hosted by the Center, and make our own life more independent.
Gretchen: I am interested in everything—theatre, movies, books, music, but most of all, people. I’ve finally learned not to pass personal judgment and to be grateful for the good life I have.
Betty: Take one day at a time.
Carmencita: Learn to live independently. Grow in wisdom and age before God and men graciously, come what may. Keep one’s goal, in health and sickness. Trust in God’s divine providence. Be constantly on the positive side of life. Stick to the golden rule. Always think well of others.
Diane: Society does not value us as I feel it should. They focus on the young, blonde, thin, and pretty. We have more experience in life, we are dependable, more knowledgeable than the young. Society feels we should go sit down and be quiet. We are a growing group and we demand to be heard!
Karolyn: Get your mind off yourself and help others and smile. Be helpful to others and listen to what is being said.
Rodolfo: Pray, trust God, give to church. Go dancing, singing. No alcohol and no smoking. No drugs. Keep smiling.
Virginia: Be happy for what you have, many aren’t. Try to smile and see if they will talk. Be nice.
Anonymous: Be thankful for every day and make the most of it.