Opinion

Center sees the joys, challenges of aging on Vashon | Opinion

By AVA APPLE

For The Beachcomber

The Vashon-Maury Senior Center turns 30 this year, and we have a lot to celebrate. Prior to our current location on Bank Road, a group of 30 island seniors called the Evergreen Club met at Ober Park. Today the senior center boasts 300 members, with lots of lives touched and lots of stories to tell.

I have been the director at the center for over two years. My philosophy when working with others, especially older adults, is that of empowerment. I grew up in a matriarchal Southern family. I was the youngest daughter of three daughters born to the oldest daughter of three daughters. No uncles and no brothers, just strong, hard-working women. Spending time with my grandmother and great-grand mother while my mother worked shaped me into who I am and developed the respect I have for elders.

In college I learned about the “strength-based model” in social services. Strength-based models focus on the promotion of the individual. Instead of prescribing solutions to problems, the focus is on recognizing and developing individual strengths. My grandmothers had a healthy sense of self and were well aware of their self-worth. I thought this state of mind was the status quo until I later became a caregiver to seniors suffering from the early stages of dementia.

When an individual’s sense of self is slowly slipping away, it is an ongoing challenge to find a way to strengthen community bonds. This slipping away happens to more than those unfortunate enough to develop dementia. It happens to widows or widowers whose grown children have moved off-island and are too busy with their own lives to visit often. It happens as it gets more and more challenging to drive after dark and your world starts to shrink just as your confidence does. These issues face all of us because age is the great equalizer. When it comes down to it, we are all in the same boat. So if it is inevitable, and it is, then why not make it as life-affirming and empowering as possible?

That’s what we do at the senior center. Over the years the center has evolved to meet the needs of a growing population of aging adults. We help them remain active, engaged and independent by providing for their needs through programs such as Meals on Wheels, a free legal clinic, information and referrals as well as our newest program, Neighbor to Neighbor. This program provides older adults with volunteer assistance, enabling them to stay in their homes.

Back in college, I also learned of many studies that showed that people who are lonely and depressed are three to 10 times more likely to pass away earlier than those with strong connections. There are many living examples that prove this research. We see it everyday at the senior center.

For instance, Luella is at the center for lunch daily. She’s been a participant since the days of the early 1970s and the Evergreen Club. The senior center has been a part of her life for over 40 years. It keeps her active and healthy at 97!

Keith came to us reluctantly at first. It was hard losing his wife. In fact, it would have been much easier to just isolate. With encouragement from his family, however, he began coming in to the center for coffee in the morning. That soon expanded to lunch and now years later if Keith doesn’t show up by 10:30 a.m., a staff member is on the phone checking to see if he is okay.

Seniors aren’t the only beneficiaries. Recently a young man named Ben came to volunteer at the center. He was shy at first, but his caring persona was quickly shown, and he was embraced by the lunch diners he helped serve. Ben developed the needed skills and professional references to move on to a paying position in Seattle. We miss him, but everyone feels very proud that we were able to assist in his professional development.

These are just a few examples of the positive impact the center has on peoples’ lives. In the next 30 years, the need for a strong senior center will only grow. Please help us create a space that supports healthy aging and honors all of our individual strengths.

 

— Ava Apple is the Executive Director of the Vashon-Maury Senior Center.

 

The senior center will celebrate its 30th anniversary by holding a party with  food, a silent auction and live music from Portage Fill at 7 p.m. Saturday.

 

 

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