In a recent blog on ChangingAging.org, Kavan Peterson discusses the need to build an elder friendly future. According to Jim Diers, internationally renowned community-builder and former director of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, it means that we’ve created a world in which we’ve separated “the built environment from the natural and social environment, even though that’s not how we live. We separate our elders and our young people and people with disabilities. We can’t create community when we’re breaking up.”
Under the Aging Your Way initiative created by Denise Klein, CEO of the Seattle non-profit King County Senior Services, individuals came together and were asked to envision the lifestyle they’d want as elders. While individual answers varied, there were several themes which matched those of the Green House homes.
One of the themes was the need to be recognized as more than just an elder with needs. Instead, they wanted to be seen as individuals who could contribute their knowledge and wisdom, continue to learn and also be able to participate in outdoor activities. Earlier this year, residents and staff of the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community took to the outdoors and did some woodwork. The results were several pieces of furniture for each home in the Woodland Park neighborhood: a dining room table which seats 14, a hutch, a game table, side table and matching bookshelves. Green House homes empower Elders to actively participate in meaningful activities, giving them the autonomy and control to plan their day as they choose. Not only does this eliminate the structure of institutionalized care, but it also works to shape an elder-friendly world outside the home.
As the process of aging begins, the need to be surrounded by loved ones grows even stronger. This feeling of belonging is grows even stronger when Elders remain connected to their community in a purposeful way, and with intergenerational engagement. With the initiatives set up by Peterson and Klein and with Green House homes working to empower Elders, the potential to fully integrate Elders and the community is not only a possibility, but a necessity for a rich and robust world.