Wired to Be One
Recently I visited the Lake City Seniors as Seattle Mayor Ed Murray met with older adults. He was there to receive input on ways to make Seattle an age-friendly city—where people can grow up and grow old together—while helping our older adults thrive as they age.
As part of the entourage and as designated note-taker, I walked into the Lake City Community Center, an unassuming building with calming green-colored walls. Triangular flag banners in pastel quilt colors draped from the ceiling, crisscrossing back and forth, which created a cozy, inviting feeling. Program director Claudine Wallace greeted us warmly and escorted us from group to group. I followed along as Mayor Murray observed an all-Spanish speaking group playing bingo. Next, a Tai Chi class, and then on to the Peer Connections group.
The Connections group comprises seven older adults—one couldn’t make it so the group printed her picture and mounted it on a stake (see photo at top). They wanted to show that she was a valued part of their group and that they were not whole without her. They were a lively, fun bunch, full of purpose and energy. As their spokesperson began to tell their story, I realized there was something bigger going on there that needed to be shared with others.
Originally, these older adults came to Lake City Seniors programs at the community center every week to “do their thing.” They greeted each other with the courteous “hello” and “goodbye,” but didn’t know each other outside of that space. Several explained to us that older adults need relationships just as much as teenagers do. They want to be included and involved. They want to help and a place to belong.
They shared with us that they discovered everyone wanted the same thing—real relationships. So, they named their group Connections!—people connecting with people—and started to share their interests and their lives with each other.
After several months, members put their feelings into a rap song—yes, you heard me correctly, a rap song! Their rap, “Wired To Be One,” captures the essence and purpose of their group. These cool 65+ adults weaved diversity, equity, intergenerational struggles, displacement, hope, and 504 years of collective wisdom into a soulful rap with the realities of what they and younger generations face.
When our visit with the Connections group came to an end, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted them to play their rap video again. I wanted to sit and hear their stories. I wanted to hear their wisdom and take it with me to pass along to others. I left reluctantly and submitted to our schedule, but as it turned out, meeting with the Spanish-speaking group was the icing on the cake!
Mayor Murray engaged with Spanish speakers through an interpreter. He heard their concerns and suggestions on how we can make Seattle an age-friendly city. They also expressed their thankfulness for Mayor Murray’s work on various initiatives, including Sanctuary City and Age Friendly Seattle. And they gleefully gathered around to take pictures with him, modeling their desire to connect and be in relationship with others.
Later, Mayor Murray addressed Lake City Seniors luncheon participants. He talked about Age Friendly Seattle goals and a resolution he signed in March 2017. One of the eight domains in our age-friendly framework is Social Participation. Getting out into the community, developing friendships, and being active with others are ways to increase social participation. The Connections and Spanish-speaking groups are doing just that! Their examples inspire, stir hearts, and provide a renewed sense of purpose.
Are you Wired to Be One? I bet you are! What will you do to increase social participation in your life? Ask your neighbor or friend. I am sure they want the same thing too—real friendships, and a place to connect.
For more information about the Lake City Seniors, read Bringing a Senior Center “Without Walls” to Lake City in the December 2016 issue of AgeWise King County.
Contributor Terry Ann Lee, coordinates work for Age-Friendly Seattle and is the editor of AgeWise King County in Aging and Disability Services.