Creative Aging Expert

November 2008

In This Issue


Peace Corps Recruits Retirees

The new director of the Peace Corps, retiree Ronald Tschetter, has set a goal of bringing older people back to work in the 75 foreign countries where the Peace Corps has projects. "It's a resource that, if tapped, could just bring tremendous value to these countries," Tschetter told the Philadelphia Inquirer (October 16, 2007). Veterans of the Corps from 30 years ago, Kenneth and June Nicholson of Vermont are teaching in Bulgaria; Charles Harkness of Minnesota took a challenge from his daughter and went to Kyrgyzstan to teach. The Peace Corps has almost 8,000 volunteers, most of whom are in their 20s, but Tschetter seeks baby boomers for their expertise and experience in agriculture, business, education, energy, and health. Recruitment is difficult, but efforts are being made to interest older people to take the plunge. "I had a really nice life, but something was missing," said Nancy O'Connell of North Carolina, who served in Suriname in South America in 2003. The hardest part was learning Dutch, which she did by studying six hours a day for seven weeks.

Safety for the volunteers is a primary concern, and a health assessment is made before being assigned to a post. The Peace Corps is able to work with most situations, if the volunteers are willing, according to Jack Bardon, of Minnesota, who joined with his wife at age 70. (The September Positive Aging Newsletter alerted me to this article.)

In addition to the feelings of accomplishment that come from helping others, I see a financial advantage in joining the Peace Corps in your retirement years. There are very few out of pocket expenses and your travel costs (there and back) are covered. While working a small stipend is provided. Upon finishing a two year stint, volunteers are given a lump sum to help in resettling. In the meantime, social security and/or retirement funds can be accumulating in your savings account.

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Telephone Based Classes

Have you heard of the DOROT University Without Walls, a telephone-based educational program for homebound seniors? A recent article described the transformational experience of Kathy Leeds, who grows animated as she describes the courses she is taking this fall - the life and work of author Doris Lessing and a class on recording personal histories. But Leeds will never set foot on a campus or in a classroom. The 79-year-old widow has multiple sclerosis, uses a wheelchair, and is confined to her Manhattan apartment. The curriculum includes more than 250 courses and runs the gamut from understanding feng shui and poetry writing to discussions on moral, ethical, and philosophical issues and a discourse on women of the progressive era. "It gets me out emotionally. It releases me from the four walls around me," Leeds told the Richmond Times Dispatch (September 22, 2008). While the majority of the students are from the New York area, seniors in Alaska, Iowa, and Texas also participate. The program was started in 1989 by DOROT, a New York-based senior services agency that partners with some of New York City's major medical and cultural institutions in offering the classes. Classes are taught via telephone conference calls by professionals in the world of art, history, science, and medicine who often volunteer their time. Each 50-minute class meets once a week for up to 18 weeks. Class size is kept small, no more than 10 people, to keep discussion lively. Fees also are low: $15 per course. To learn more go to dorotusa.org or call 212-769-2850.

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Growing Older - Feeling Sad Reply

Elizabeth Smith from Richmond, Virginia, replies to the woman who was feeling depressed about turning 60. "I believe that wrinkles are beautiful, older eyes share wisdom, slow movement allows time for enjoying the present moment, aches and pains allow us to appreciate friends who rise to help. I have found each age has pleasures that cannot be enjoyed except at the time we are in them. How wonderful to be young - with energy and ideas. How wonderful to be older - with experience and patience. How wonderful to be ancient - with blessings to pass on to others."

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News from the Female Nomad

I recently received an inspiring e-mail from Rita Golden Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World (ritagoldengelman.com).

"I just came back from Peru where I volunteered for two weeks in Pamashto, a small village in the jungle. Six of us from the United States worked alongside the same number of parents and teachers from the village, building a lunchroom for a school. I turned 71 during the trip and the school staff gave me a birthday party.

My work contribution was not in the shoveling of cement nor in the climbing of ladders to pour pails of the stuff into framed and reinforced columns-to-be. But I cut wires, tore down a fence, hosed new and drying concrete, and added to the ambiance. Each of us lived with a different family. I admit that the pit latrine in my house was not as easy to deal with as it would have been a few years ago, but I managed. And the joy of singing, eating, playing, and picnicking with my village family was a gift I will carry with me forever. The group that set the whole thing up was Global Citizens Network. They put together volunteer trips all over the world. (And are recommended by National Geographic.) They offer one an extraordinary adventure while helping out and working with local people. globalcitizens.org .

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Terms of Endearment?

Do you like to be called "Sweetie" and "Dear"? According to a recent article in the New York Times, many people don't. Professionals call it "elderspeak," the sweetly belittling form of address that has often rankled older people: the doctor who talks to the elder's son or daughter rather than to the patient herself about her health; the store clerk who assumes that an older person does not know how to work a computer or needs to be addressed slowly or in a loud voice. Then there are those who address any elderly person as "dear." "People think they are being nice," said Elvira Nagle, 83, of Dublin, California, "but when I hear it, it raises my hackles."

Now studies are finding that the insults can have health consequences, especially if people mutely accept the attitudes behind them, said Becca Levy an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, who studies the health effects of such messages on elderly people.

Despite such research, the worst offenders are often healthcare workers, says Kristine Williams, a nurse gerontologist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Nursing. Dr. Williams observes that healthcare workers often think using words like "dear" or "sweetie" convey that they care and make them easier to understand. "But they don't realize the implications," she says, "that it's also giving messages to older adults that they're incompetent.."

Healthcare workers are often not trained to avoid elderspeak, said Vicki Rosebrook, the executive director of the Macklin Intergenerational Institute in Findlay, Ohio, a combined facility for elderly people and children that is part of a retirement community. Dr. Rosebrook said that even in her facility "we have 300 elders who are "sweetie"d here. Our kids talk to elders with more respect than some of our professional care providers." She said she considers elderspeak a form of bullying. "It's talking down to them," she observes, "We do it to children as well. It's natural for the sandwich generation, since they address children that way."

Not all older people object to being called these names; some, like Jan Rowell, 61, of West Linn, Oregon, say they appreciate the warmth. "We're all reaching across the chasm," Rowell says. "If someone calls us sweetie or honey, it's not diminishing us; it's just their way to connect in a positive way." View the full article.

What do you think about elderspeak? What forms of address get your goat? My favorite is, "Hello young woman." I am 77 and obviously not a young woman. I reply, "I am not a young woman; I'm an old woman with pizzazz." When addressed by a term that offends you, I believe it is important to reply and make it known how the term makes you feel. Responding helps people be more sensitive to the language they use and can make them more aware of the underlying ageism in our culture.

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Cheap Traveling Web Sites

My local newspaper, the Richmond Times Dispatch, recently reported on two web sites that are said to offer opportunities for vacations that don't require you to spend a bundle of money. I checked out IgoUgo.com and found a very interesting trip run by Caravan Tours to Costa Rico that didn't break the bank. It also would take me to all the places I especially want to see. This trip is recommended by Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel book which has positive reviews of Caravan Tours. Another site, Uptake.com, has a "feeling broke" theme showcasing inexpensive lodging and free attractions. Go to cheap and free things to do. Let me know if you find a good trip on one of these sites. The sites excite my travel urge, but I can't really vouch for them. I urge you to check out their offerings and reach your own conclusions.

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Communities For All Ages

There are a number of inspiring activities organized by Communities for All Ages (CFAA), a national initiative coordinated by the Center for Intergenerational Learning at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Examples of their projects to serve citizens across the age scale include:
  • A coalition of faith-based institutions and community-planning councils working together to create a Farmers' Market to serve residents of all ages and cultures.
  • A defunct school building transformed into a vibrant cultural and educational center for multiple generations.
  • Programs for youth and older adults to help develop leadership skills that address the challenges faced by the neighborhoods in which they live.

Embracing a lifespan approach to community building, CFAA promotes the well-being of children, youth, and older adults; makes full use of the assets of people at all stages of life; and fosters interdependence and intergenerational interaction. It focuses on transforming varied age groups from competitors into allies and moving organizations out of narrowly focused approaches to problem solving. Read an article on this dynamic organization. For more information go to communitiesforallages.org.

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Christmas Special from Make It Happen!

Looking for a special gift for the elders in your family? I am offering my Resource Guide for Aging Adventurers: Unusual, sometimes inexpensive opportunities for volunteering, learning, traveling, and adventure at a reduced price for the holiday season. It usually sells for $12; I am offering it for $10 plus postage. Send $10.60 to Make It Happen! 3220A W. Grace St., Richmond, VA 23221, and you will receive an autographed copy. There are more details about the guide at TheAgingAdventurer.com.

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Emily Kimball
3220A West Grace Street
Richmond, VA 23221-1306
(804) 358-5536
Fax (804) 358-2415

web: TheAgingAdventurer.com
email: etkimball@aol.com