Older Americans Month was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. Although it was first called “Senior Citizens Month,” this name was later changed to reflect more modern language. Every year since then, the President has issued a proclamation to recognize this special month. It is meant to be a month to celebrate the contributions of older adults to our country.

The theme for the 2021 Older American’s month is “Communities of Strength.” This theme is very fitting considering what older adults have endured this past year. It is a sad reality that more than 80 percent of all deaths due to COVID-19 in America have been in the age 65+ population. The isolation of staying at home has also taken its toll on older adults, both emotionally and physically.

For many, it made them feel their age for the first time. Recognizing their own vulnerability to the virus was not easy, especially for active and healthy older adults.

Yet, as was written into this year’s proclamation, older adults have continued to step up and support their community. This month should be a time to reflect on the power, resiliency and strength of our Older Adult community. A time to reach out and support them, listen to them, and learn from them.

Senior Concerns has experienced the community support of older adults firsthand. Many of the Home Delivered Meals drivers are volunteers who are over the age of 65. While some paused their volunteering when the initial Stay at Home orders were issued, they mostly all resumed their volunteer work, letting us know how important it was to them to help in a time of need. They knew that their time and efforts were part of a larger movement to help those that could not help themselves.

To build a strong community we must connect with each other. Ensure every neighbor has what they need, and knows they are supported. Since the start of the pandemic we have seen signs of these connections all around. Some literal signs included chalk writings of support on sidewalks and lawn signs showing the community they care. Other signs were more subtle. The park near my home has a makeshift mini food pantry box where people may leave or take items as needed.

Older adults have led full lives of ups and downs. They have histories of fighting back after uncertainty, and learning from mistakes and troubles. We all can learn a lot if we take the time to ask questions, to listen to stories, and to value their contributions.

Especially after this year, which has singled out older adults as the physically vulnerable ones in our community, we need to remind them that they are valuable and important. Their contributions helped shape the advances in society we see today. And they continue to contribute with their knowledge, advice, volunteer work, and perspective.

Take the time, reflect on what Older Americans Month means to you, and reach out to ensure that our community is one of strength.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org

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