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Originally published March 28, 2012 at 7:32 PM | Page modified March 28, 2012 at 7:32 PM

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Helping boomers embrace a new concept: growing old

A Senior Services project draws baby boomers into creating communities that support aging well.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Senior Services: seati.ms/HjsX2i

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Boomers never expected to get old, but it is happening to many of them, you, us.

The cohort born between 1946 and 1964 is huge — 10,000 a day turn 65. But aging is not something baby boomers like to think about. So if you are an organization called Senior Services and you see this group coming, you know you have an outreach challenge.

The nonprofit agency, which promotes the well-being of older adults, had to figure out how to help people who don't want to see themselves as old. It came up with a clever outreach strategy, a proactive movement called Aging Your Way.

It's not about someone helping you across the street. It is about you imagining and helping create the community you want to live in as you age.

Over 18 months Senior Services convened meetings in 12 locations around King County that generated ideas and action.

Last week the agency held a summit to move the process along. Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell opened the summit, saying that when boomers were young, everyone said, "You need to listen to the elders." And now that boomers are older, everyone is saying, "Listen to the youth."

But Aging Your Way starts with listening to the concerns of a generation that has changed every life stage it has moved through, and likely will change in some ways how communities deal with aging.

Senior Services' vice president, Joanne Donohue, and Aging Your Way program manager Dori Gillam said that at each meeting participants raised issues unique to their neighborhoods, but several concerns ran through all of them: housing, lifelong learning, the built environment, arts and entertainment, transportation, the local economy and healthy living.

People at the meetings were asked to form teams and put their ideas in motion.

Four women created a time bank through which neighbors can share talents. They call it SWEL for Shoreline, Woodway, Edmonds and Lake Forest Park.

Some residents of Southeast Seattle wanted to bring people together, so they asked neighbors to teach each other dances from their countries of origin. Two hundred people showed up for the first dance party and there have been five more dance parties so far.

Senior Services did some matchmaking when participants' ideas fit the goals of established programs. They connected people who had ideas about transportation in Shoreline to Hopelink, for instance. A church in Auburn is helping a time bank happen there.

The summit continued on the do-it-yourself track. About 250 people attended from business, government, nonprofits, education — and just interested folks.

In the morning, attendees moved from room to room hearing briefly about programs or budding efforts they had identified as interests when they signed up.

I stopped in four of the rooms. In the first, Lisa Quinn talked up Feet First, a 10-year-old program that gets people out walking their neighborhoods together. It's good exercise, it fosters connections, and having more eyes on the street reduces crime, she said.

Feet First trains walk leaders and suggests ways to improve the walkable environment. It also helps connect people to resources — such as naturalists to give walking talks — and helps walk leaders promote walks.

In another room, architect Grace Kim talked about the merits of cohousing. Living in that environment, residents don't have to eat alone in front of the TV, she said, and they benefit from sharing their different abilities.

Tom Mendelson spoke about a group working to create a one-stop shopping website for information about lifelong learning opportunities. He's a librarian by profession.

Anne Bruskland, a King County transportation planner, talked about the county's support for ride sharing.

Afterward, people participated in small group discussions on how to make their ideas happen, before reporting back to the whole.

Senior Services will continue to support the Aging Your Way initiatives going forward. You can visit its website for more information: seati.ms/HjsX2i.

Jim Diers, former head of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and a community-building consultant, told the attendees the stone soup story to illustrate a central message. He said, "No one of us has all we need for building community. No one of us has all we need for successful aging," but together we can create the community we want if each person adds what he has to give to the pot — talent, experience, knowledge, whatever that necessary ingredient happens to be.

That's a sound philosophy at most stages of life.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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