May is Older Americans Month, a time to honor and appreciate a unique season of life. Many of us have benefited from the wisdom and experience of older adults. Those generations born before 1945 lived through some unique life experiences: radio, the automobile, the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, the GI Bill, the atomic age, and more. You can glean nuggets of wisdom about history and life as older adults share memories of raising a family, volunteering in the community, fulfilling a vocation, being a good neighbor, serving in the military, or holding a political office. Take the opportunity to celebrate the countless ways our lives have been enriched by the contributions of older adults. A few simple suggestions for intergenerational sharing are provided below. Encourage your group to share life stories so that others can draw inspiration and insight from their experiences.
- Ask participants what they would like to teach the younger generations about life. Compile a list titled “10 Lessons From the School of Life” to share with others.
- Display a 20th century timeline and old Life magazines or historic photographs. Choose an event from the timeline and ask participants to share what they learned from it, e.g., coping with the Great Depression.
- Ask participants to share a topic unique to their life circumstances, e.g., attending a rural school in the South in the 1930s or dealing with teen rebellion in the 1950s and 1960s. Or, members can provide an overview of a particular decade in which they lived, e.g., life in the suburbs in the 1950s or teen pastimes in the 1940s.
- Encourage your group to talk about the impact of an invention on American culture and family life, e.g., the advent of television in the 1950s.
- Honor the heroism and sacrifice of military veterans in your group. Encourage veterans to speak about serving their country. Invite veteran service organizations, such as the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) or American Legion, to talk about promoting patriotism and citizenship in the community.
- Ask your group to explore the emerging role of women in the 20th century: the right to vote, flappers, Rosie the Riveter, 1950s suburban housewife, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.
- Explore the importance of traits such as discipline, duty, honor, sacrifice, self-denial, hard work, responsibility, and teamwork to this generation of adults. What did they witness and experience that helped to cultivate these traits?
- Highlight the special gifts, natural talents, and learned skills of your participants through a talent show, sing-along, arts and crafts exhibit, bake sale, folk art craft demonstration, and more.
- Brainstorm family traditions and rituals that have made an impact on younger generations in the extended family, e.g., holding an annual family reunion. Explore the value of passing on family history and heritage.
- Celebrate the role of senior volunteer by sharing experiences with organizations such as Elks, Jaycees, March of Dimes, Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way, Special Olympics, and Kiwanis.
- In honor of Mother’s Day on May 14, plan a Spring Garden Party for your group. Serve some special desserts such as scones, petit fours, and cookies and a variety of herbal teas. Present each participant with a fresh bouquet of spring flowers. Reminisce with family photographs from each decade of the 20th century. The “fashion talk” will be fascinating! Play some vintage music in the background.
- Older adults have embraced many different roles in life. Highlight the stages of life and encourage participants to offer sage advice for newlyweds, young parents, in-laws, retirees, and more. Across the lifespan, which roles have been the most fulfilling? The most challenging?
- Hold a poetry contest with your group. Focus on the topic Gifts and Opportunities of Aging (e.g., patience, compassion, gratitude). Tap into the spiritual insights of your group with a biblical view of aging and maturity. Read from Jimmy Carter’s book, The Virtues of Aging, about growing old gracefully. Encourage family members to write a letter of appreciation for an older person in their life.
- One of the gifts of aging is becoming a grandparent. Spend some time talking about the importance of intergenerational bonds in a family.
WHO’S WHO AMONG OLDER ADULTS QUIZ
Older adults play a valuable role in families and contribute in significant ways to the community at large. Talk about influential older Americans such as coaches, mentors, tutors, statesmen, elders, and deacons. Then quiz your group on people who have achieved success and recognition later in life. Read each statement below and ask your participants to name the man or woman who fits the description.
- At age 76, he won an Oscar for Best Actor in On Golden Pond. Henry Fonda
- At age 76, he became the oldest person to go into space. (Hint: He flew on the space shuttle.)John Glenn
- This popular American folk artist, known for primitives, started painting in her 70s. Grandma Moses
- He was the longest-serving Chief Justice of the 20th century (from 1986-2005). William Rehnquist
- This former movie star was the oldest man elected to the office of U.S. president. Ronald Reagan (at age 69)
- This former first lady was a delegate to the first session of the United Nations while in her 60s. Eleanor Roosevelt
- This Protestant TV evangelist was still holding crusades in his late 80s. Billy Graham
- This cigar-puffing American comedian and actor continued his long career into his 90s. George Burns
- At age 87, this poet recited “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Robert Frost
- This former U.S. president won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 at age 78. Jimmy Carter
THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“OLDER AMERICANS MONTH” written by Sue Hansen. © 2006 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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