Earlier this week, I shared my conversations with Jeanne Kelly and Jeffrey Dokken about their experiences conducting for Encore Creativity for Older Adults. This inspiring chorus program welcomes seniors who have always had a passion for singing as well as those who are trying it for the first time. Programs such as Encore give aging adults a creative outlet and offer plenty of physical and mental benefits.
If singing isn’t your thing, though, many other organizations out there are inspiring older adults to stay active and passionate. I suggest checking out one (or more!) of the following groups in the new year. Nearly all of these groups are national in scope, so their websites should be able to point you to local branches where you can get involved. (As a New York resident, I’m especially familiar with some of the resources in my area, which is why I’ve included the two NYC organizations at the end of the list.)
New Horizons International Music Association offers seniors with limited or no musical experience the chance to learn and play instrumental music in a positive group setting. Don’t worry if you’ve never picked up an instrument or have horrible memories of being criticized by your grade-school music teacher (they specialize in the novice performer). This organization is a great venue to meet others, contribute to a group, challenge yourself intellectually, and participate in social events (such as concerts and group trips).
Senior Corps connects people age 55 and over with organizations that need their help. Through this group you can become a mentor, coach, or companion to someone in need, or volunteer your skills to a community project. You can use your experience, skills, and friendship to make a positive difference for people in your community.
Meetup has a group for nearly every interest you can imagine, and it’s easy to find some focused on seniors. Simply go to seniors.meetup.com and enter your city or postal code to get a list of nearby groups. (Alternatively, if you don’t mind hanging out with non-seniors, you can go to www.meetup.com and search by topic and location.) You can find groups for movie lovers, yoga practitioners, active singles, people who enjoy cooking and dining together, travelers, and much, much more. And if you don’t see a group that suits your needs, you can start a new one!
Community colleges offer low-cost noncredit classes (often at discounted rates for seniors!) in a variety of subjects, including jewelry making, drawing, cooking, tai chi, yoga, gardening, languages, and history. Some schools even design continuing education courses specifically for older adults. Taking a class is a great way to get out, exercise your brain, and meet new people. Many community colleges also offer online learning opportunities, which are great for people with limited mobility.
Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), with the motto “Adventures in Lifelong Learning,” offers education-focused programs that introduce seniors to new places, cultures, and ideas in 5,500 different programs throughout the world. Since the program’s founding in 1975, more than five million people have participated in its trips, which include dulcimer workshops in Kentucky, hikes in the Grand Canyon, barge cruises on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia, and expeditions to Antarctica. Road Scholar also offers intergenerational adventures for grandparents and their grandchildren, as well as family programs designed for grandparents, their children, and their grandchildren to travel together.
Generations United promotes collaboration among children, youth, and seniors. By bringing multiple generations together, the program seeks to promote public policy and resource use that benefit all ages and strengthen communities. This website contains a great deal of information on the benefits of multigenerational programs, as well as a map of such programs throughout the country. (Just click on a map “pin” to pull up info on the program at that site.)
Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), based in NYC, encourages older adults to share their stories and life experiences through writing, dance, and visual arts. ESTA pairs older adults with young people, and together they create art projects based on life histories. This program enables older and younger people to form friendships while learning about each other’s cultures and traditions.
Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), another NYC-based program, also offers an opportunity for older and younger generations to come together. OATS teaches aging adults to use modern technology to make their lives easier, more connected, and healthier. It offers traditional technology classes as well as intergenerational training that pairs seniors with high-school students. Through technology-based projects that promote cross-generational connections, the students get community service credit, the seniors learn important technology skills, and both parties connect with someone from their community and learn to overcome age stereotypes. One of the stereotypes senior citizens face in technology is using phones, they can be laughed at for not being able to use cell-phones like “everyone else”, that’s why looking at cheap cell phones for seniors can be a positive step in getting them something that will help connect them to the modern-day without it being complicated.
This list represents just the tip of the iceberg. If one of the groups mentioned here doesn’t suit your fancy, I’m sure you can find one that does! An Internet search for “volunteer programs for seniors” or “creative programs for seniors” can point you toward numerous other opportunities, and adding your zip code or city name to the search terms will narrow the list to groups in your area.
I write mostly about travel-related topics in this blog, but I see travel not only as a great experience to share with a loved one but also as a way for seniors to improve their quality of life. I’m always interested in learning about other opportunities for seniors to stay active and healthy (both physically and mentally). So if you come across an organization that you think should be on this list, let me know!