By Harriet P. Gross
Here’s something about my late old friend Al: He had 30 years on me when he retired and moved to California. We’d long shared a mutual love of reading, so when he made his first return visit and I asked him how he was filling all those work-empty hours, I expected he’d tell me it topped his activity list.
And so it did, but not in the way I expected. “I go around to some of my area’s senior centers, reviewing books and telling stories to the old folks,” he said.
Old folks? I laughed then, because he was surely one of them himself.
Well, today I’m not laughing, since I think I may have turned into Al. I’m now about the age he was when he opted for retirement, but I find it hard — impossible, actually — to think of myself as one of the “old folks” because, like he did, I go around to some of our area’s senior centers, reviewing books and telling stories to their residents.
So when the Aaron Family JCC held its recent 11th annual Senior Expo Oct. 16, I went for the first time — not so much to find out what kind of services are available for me as to learn what’s being offered for the “old folks” who need them. (Most of which I don’t. Not yet … ) Here are some of the best things I found:
The Expo’s presenting sponsor, Town Village North, was one of the first senior residences to open in our area; its central location with proximity to the “J” made it a prime pick for older Jews looking to give up their houses but not their joy in living. Here they found good friends, good food, and good times.
Since Town Village opened, it’s almost impossible to count how many other housing options have come here. I call this modern phenomenon — born, of course, from the same lengthening lifespans that have brought our country up short where Social Security and Medicare are concerned — “the growth industry of our time.” At Expo, lots of senior facilities set up autumn-decorated tables covered with informative brochures and plenty of tasty treats for folks to munch on as they walked, looked, talked and learned.
For many who prefer to stay in their own private homes as long as possible, there’s a unique service called Seniors Helping Seniors that makes matches to help people in two ways: some elders provide their personal assistance to others who need it. And this is a two-way, pay-and-be-paid proposition:
“Many of our seniors who help are recently retired or on a reduced work schedule,” the informative pamphlet available at Expo says. “Our helpers work only as many hours a week as they want, and get to supplement their income in a very rewarding way.”
Dallas Seniors’ Guide is a hefty free brochure: almost 100 colorful pages covering virtually everything of interest and importance to “old folks.” John and Antoinette Griffin publish similar localized guides for other Texas cities, too; the one I picked up at Expo to take home, their sixth annual for our area, had been mailed earlier to an astounding 75,000 homes.
And at Expo, everybody could face up to those important, scary, too often ignored end-of-life issues in a safe, upbeat atmosphere. People were there to share information on hospice care; so were compassionate representatives of those who provide Jewish funeral and burial services. It’s not so intimidating to look honestly at life’s inevitables and learn about their realities in a companionable setting like this.
Expo set a festive casino theme with game tables, slot machines and bingo, everything played just for fun, and fun prizes awarded rather than money. This was exciting for some. But what was exciting for everyone is the JCC’s new offering: “Senior Social J,” a special category for all in our area who are at least 65 years of age; it will provide a range of both in-house and off-site activities for an annual membership fee of just $44. This will allow many more “old folks” to take advantage of the JCC’s growing senior program at an amazingly reasonable fee.
My old friend, whose informal teaching made him a special kind of “senior helping seniors” himself, would have loved this budget-friendly idea. I do, too. And in my own “old folks” years, I’ll support it (while, of course, I continue for as long as I can to follow in Al’s footsteps, reviewing books and telling stories to my contemporaries).