Life May Not begin at 60, But It Doesn’t End There Either

Finding creative solutions to ensure we can all thrive as we age.
By Jennifer Barraclough, Executive Director, Iredell Council on Aging

As Americans live longer and healthier lives, it is the goal of not only the Iredell Council on Aging, and our senior centers, but senior centers nationwide to find creative solutions to ensure we can all thrive as we age. I began my career with the Council on Aging as the manager of South Iredell Senior Center before advancing to the Executive Director role. I have witnessed firsthand the impact the services offered through senior centers have on our participants, their families, and our community. Services that provide individuals with the tools to not only age in place but to feel valued, heard, respected, accepted, and to have the opportunity to give back to their own community.

Aging is a dynamic process and with the help of senior centers, participants can obtain new skills and knowledge to not only share with those around them, but to guide them through the aging process. As “experts” in the aging field, we really want to be the first stop for someone that’s over 60 coming into our community; whether moving to the area or finally aging into our services and centers.

We age every day and that’s difficult for some to accept. We want individuals to embrace becoming older. As senior centers, we cater to the needs and interests of all older adults through the programs, services and resources offered. Our senior centers are vibrant and thriving and many are not aware of the range of the programs we offer. There is often the thought that senior centers are “just old people” or “bingo Friday” and we own that, however it’s time to destigmatize this way of thinking! Senior centers are a club that you’re lucky enough to age into. The activities that go on inside the walls of senior centers and out in the community through senior center programming are specifically designed and implemented to engage a population that isn’t done yet, that want more and can do all that and then some!

Our Senior Centers are a community. We know our participants’ families and their lives. Often, senior center staff are the individuals who recognize the need for additional resources. We become the advocates that are talking with participants or we’re reaching out to that family and aiding the adult children or other family members. We bring awareness to all the resources that senior centers and the Council on Aging offer and encourage people to ask for help, as seniors, as family or as a caregiver for a participant.

There is so much to the aging process and so much more to learn. We count ourselves as experts, but the true experts are those deep into the aging process and have a lot of runways ahead. They teach us as much as we guide and teach them. The perception that people just need a place to be once they’re done working or the kids are out of the house is minimizing what we and our participants are capable of; senior centers do more than keep Mom or Grandpa busy.

I want to end with this….

Growing older is a privilege, an art, and a gift. It’s a luxury not afforded to all. Now is our opportunity to de-stigmatize aging. It’s time to draw inspiration from the experiences and lessons we have collected and embrace each phase of life.

Someone once said, “Life may not begin at 40, or 50, or even 60…but it doesn’t end there either.” Aging is beautiful, and I look forward to the opportunity to age from Executive Director to participate one day.