Building a safe and happy home for seniors

We want to make the journey through older years as pleasant and easy as possible, for everyone.

“Circle left… Circle right… Swing your partner… Promenade home.”

I wish I could share the music that goes along with these words.

I’m listening to old-time string band Frog Holler playing their toe-tapping live music for Vashon Senior Center’s Square Dance Friday. The Center is full of smiles from people dancing and those watching.

We see a lot of smiles here. In late 2023, we conducted a survey as part of our Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy funding from King County. A few comments:

“This is a happy place. People and programs are uplifting and life-giving.”

“This is an amazing community, and the activities provided not only help with basic needs, but honor the whole soul and whole being that each person is.”

All of that is true. I find it both simple and extraordinary. Simple in that it’s not difficult to be kind. It’s easier to smile than it is to frown. It’s also extraordinary to witness people smiling, talking and dancing while facing the challenges that go along with aging in today’s world.

When I began writing this commentary, I went searching for quotations about aging and found one from David Bowie: “Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”

Aging can be that. I remember having lunch with some of our regulars in my early days here at the Senior Center. They talked about lives lived and the world today, all with great civility. Anger and arguing simply weren’t present. One of my co-workers says, “This is our little oasis.” And it is.

The seniors who regularly come to the Center are fortunate. Many live on their own and drive themselves everywhere. Many live with family members. They have people who care about them.

We also serve homebound seniors with lunch deliveries three times a week. Those visits are about more than nutrition — they’re the phone call in the morning to check in on them. They’re the visits from our volunteer drivers, who may be the only people they see on a regular basis.

Isolation can be a huge challenge when aging. I think about seniors who don’t have anyone close and caring — who don’t have “people.” I think about the seniors who are happy to live alone, down their long driveways. To be at home. For as long as they’re able.

What happens when they’re no longer able? When living in isolation becomes not a happy choice but a frightening or dangerous reality? This is an issue people are facing everywhere, not just on our island. I recently read an article that answers those questions: “What happens to the people who don’t have people? The answer is simple, we have to be their people.”

On Vashon that rings true. While there is isolation created by our moat and inefficient ferry system, there’s also opportunity to foster and nourish a community that supports everyone at all stages of life. We have people who know how to do that. Vashon is an island with huge expertise in many areas.

I see the amazing work being done by our partners in the Vashon Social Services Network. I look back at what the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps and VashonBePrepared did during the pandemic, how the all-volunteer, community-based COVID-19 response program made it easy to get tested and vaccinated.

Could we create a model like this in times of non-crisis? Could we, as an island, build and strengthen a community that cares for our elders in the ways they choose and need? Can we create an aging-friendly island?

I hope so. At the Senior Center, we want to make the journey through older years as pleasant and easy as possible, for everyone. We’re all going to grow old if we’re fortunate. I’d like to grow old here, at home, knowing that my community has a web of support for me. I hope that we can all be “people” for our seniors, that Vashon-Maury Island can be a safe and happy home for all.

Maria Glanz is the executive director of the Vashon Senior Center.