Friday, April 26, 2013

I Ran Away From Home and Joined the Navy

 While in Florida for spring break with Perri, we visited my Aunt Helen for lunch. Three years younger than my mother and now a spry 90-year-old, she still complains about being the middle child and the "abuse" she suffered as a youngster at the hands of my mother (the eldest) and her youngest sister, Miriam.

Aunt Helen, 1943
Pensacola, Florida
"I had a terrible temper when I was younger," she told me and Perri. She relayed the story about being teased by the other two while they were all cleaning the house. "I got so angry at them that I threw a chair and broke the leg. Of course, Garie told on me and I got in trouble."

As the eldest, my mother (Garie) was the only one who got the opportunity to go to college. Aunt Helen decided she had enough of being picked on. "I decided to run away from home and join the Navy. When I told my parents, they said I couldn't do that, but I told them I was 21 and I could. Nana said they would never take me because I had crooked teeth." But after a physical exam, she was, indeed, accepted and was stationed in Pensacola, Florida.

"I was trained to work with the pilots who photographed strategic positions during the war. I also did secretarial work and wrote training manuals. One time, my boss brought another officer into the room to show him how fast I could type. The other officer said that when I finished my tour with the Navy that I should contact him, that he had a job for me. It turned out he was a professor at Princeton. But when I got out, I never contacted him. I wonder what would have happened. Maybe my life would have been different." 

Aunt Helen in her dress blues, 1943
"Do you still have your uniform?" Perri and I asked. "No, when we got out I was so glad to get rid of it and not have to wear it again." She told us of wearing her dress blues for special occasions, while most of the other girls wore dress whites. "I couldn't afford the whites," she said. "My parents saw a picture of me in the blues, while almost everyone else was in whites, and asked why I wasn't in white. I told them that I couldn't afford the whites."

A few weeks later, she said, a package arrived from up North. In it was a white uniform that her father (a tailor) sewed. "He did all that for me without even having me there to measure anything out," she reminisced. "I was very close to my father."

Aunt Helen always wanted to go to college, but thought she never could because she didn't have the high school language and science requirements. "Because I was a veteran, however, they accepted me," she said. Unfortunately, she didn't enjoy her first round of classes so stopped. "I wonder what would have happened had I tried a different class, if I hadn't given in so quickly," she said. "Maybe my life would have been different."

Throughout the afternoon as Aunt Helen reminisced, she ended each story with "maybe my life would have been different if..." She's probably right; her life would have been different...if she had followed her passion, if she had not played it safe, it she had not chosen the path of least resistance, if....

So, the lesson here is to have no regrets. We can't go back and have do-overs. We can, however, choose to be daring, choose to try the road less travelled, choose to dream and go for it, choose to be happy with our paths in life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Creating An Age-Friendly America

I just received this press release and thought it worth sharing. We're all going in that direction. Hopefully when we get there, enough resources will be in place to help the growing aging population.

With America’s population aging fast, most communities still have work to do to become age-friendly – that is, great places to grow up and grow old. To accelerate efforts underway in five communities and to encourage others across the country, Community AGEnda, an initiative of Grantmakers In Aging (GIA) supported by the Pfizer Foundation, today released a set of important tools and resources to inform and inspire planners, philanthropies, and others seeking to build a more age-friendly future. These materials are available free online at

The tools include Age-friendly Americaa searchable online database with contact information and background on more than 200 age-friendly projects; Age-Friendly Communities: The movement to create great places to grow up and grow old in America: An introduction for private and public fundersan overview of the goals and accomplishments in the field to date; and Aging Power Tools: A curated selection of resources to promote stronger, age-friendly communities, a robust collection of tools from top practitioners. 
Age-friendly communities: the value proposition
“We think that every community in America could benefit from this forward-looking approach,” said John Feather, PhD, CEO of Grantmakers In Aging. “For foundations and other funders looking for maximum long-term impact, it’s hard to beat age-friendly community development, which is highly collaborative, adaptable to diverse communities, and offers benefits for residents of all ages.”

“The aging of America represents a profound societal change that we’re living through right now,” said Caroline Roan, president of the Pfizer Foundation. “We believe it can present a great opportunity if we work together, take steps to become more age-friendly, and re-imagine how our communities can help us grow old with dignity, in the places we care about.”

What makes a community age-friendly?
Age-friendly initiatives take various forms but all share the goal of creating better options for people to age in place and continue contributing to their communities. This may involve improvements to the built environment, from planning and building safe outdoor spaces to creating affordable, accessible housing; or improving infrastructure, such as more walkable town centers or more accessible public transportation. Other age-friendly initiatives tackle social needs, creating engaging cultural and outdoor activities, services, and volunteering options.

With Americans living longer and 10,000 Boomers turning 65 every day, those over age 65 will make up 20 percent of the American population by the year 2030, making age-friendly innovation more needed than ever.

Community AGEnda sites and activities
In its first year, Community AGEnda supported five programs with grants of $150,000, requiring each grantee to raise matching funds of one-third or more of the value of the grant. Their age-friendly activities include:
  • In Miami-Dade County, Florida: collaborating with the county parks to serve older adults better, conducting a walkability study in East Little Havana, preparing the area’s employers to hire and retain more older adults, and working with Miami-Dade County to review and modify  planning policies related to transportation, housing, land use, and community design;
  • In four communities and two counties in the Atlanta metropolitan area: supporting community gardens, establishing a health and wellness promotion plan, conducting a walkability assessment, and hosting workshops about the need to create age-friendly communities;
  • In Maricopa County, Arizona: planning and implementing pilot programs using the Village model of membership-driven services and volunteerism to promote aging in community, producing a video on aging in place, and creating a new website to help “younger” older adults (ages 55-70) find the resources to age in place comfortably, safely, and affordably.
  • In Bloomington, Indiana: discussing development incentives to create an age- and ability-friendly Lifetime Community District; in Indianapolis, creating a conceptual illustration for the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood to highlight potential development opportunities; and in Huntington, Indiana, engaging stakeholders to focus on housing, transportation, and accessibility issues; and
  • In the greater Kansas City area: working to improve transportation and mobility options for older people in urban and surrounding suburban areas, raising awareness of caregiving issues and the need to tap into the expertise of older adults as community resources, and working with the First Suburbs Coalition to produce a toolkit to assist elected officials and planners in developing the capacity to assess and plan for an increased older adult population.  

For more information on the new Community AGEnda tools and resources, individual grantees, their projects, and their local funders, please visit

About Grantmakers In Aging
Grantmakers In Aging (GIA) is an inclusive and responsive membership organization that is a national catalyst for philanthropy, with a common dedication to improving the experience of aging. GIA members have a shared recognition that a society that is better for older adults is a society that is better for people of all ages. For more information, please visit