Independence & Fulfillment Article:

Civic involvement enriches the lives of older adults

by Pam McGaffin

Whether it's fighting to protect Social Security or lobbying city hall for a light at that dangerous intersection, older adults can have a powerful voice in the government decisions that affect them.

All that's needed is the time and the will to get involved, says the Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of 40 not-for-profit and public organizations dedicated to helping older adults live longer, healthier lives.

You need not set out to with a monumental goal like ending world hunger. Pick one or two issues near and dear to your heart and become educated. Follow your cause in the media and get on the mailing list of a group dedicated to the effort, be it affordable health care or yard waste composting.

Not only will you be helping your community, but you'll also be helping yourself. Civic involvement can ward off depression by giving older adults a sense of purpose in their "retirement," a word that is fast becoming an anachronism.

Consider the baby boomers, some 77 million strong. Over the next five to six years, the oldest of the wave will hit 65. They have an opportunity to rewrite the book on what it means to be retired, say advocates for older adults.

Already people are living longer, healthier and more active lives. Life after 50 is becoming a time to enjoy new freedoms, start new careers and finally carry out those long neglected dreams, notes the Healthy Aging Partnership.

HAP offers the following suggestions for those who want to do more than vote:

  • Learn - Read up on the issue that most interests you. Link up with a local advocacy group and get on their mailing list. Attend a public meeting.
  • Participate - Sit on a board or committee or volunteer to help. Many of the plans and projects that come before public officials were first hashed out by citizen advisory boards.
  • Speak up - Write, call or visit your local elected officials. Tell them clearly and concisely how you will be affected by a pending decision and what you want to happen. Leave them your name and telephone number so they can call you if necessary.
  • Speak out - Spread the word to other voters with a Letter to the Editor or a call to a news radio show. Take your message to meetings of the PTA, a service club, city council, school board, church group, whatever makes sense.
  • Join - There's strength in numbers. It can also be more fun, and less intimidating, to be part of a group.

For more information about civic involvement opportunities and other issues related to life as an older adult, call HAP's free and confidential help line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or e-mail hap@seniorservices.org.

The Healthy Aging Partnership is supported by its partner agencies, including its leading sponsors: Public Health Seattle & King County and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.