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Creating Aging Equity in Marin

Creating Aging Equity in MarinPosted on 6/15/17 by Vivalon

May was Older Americans Month, and the theme for this year was “Age Out Loud”. It’s less a slogan than a rallying cry for older adults to have more of a voice in this community: You do not have to be silent as you grow older; your voice can always be heard.

Vivalon envisions a connected community where older adults are celebrated and nurtured, and where all people have equitable access to whatever resources, connections and services they need in order to age with dignity, independence and grace. I call this Aging Equity, and it’s my personal belief that we all share in the responsibility to make this vision a reality.

As a father and grandfather, I have watched and applauded the success of the educational equity movement in our county. Nonprofits, grassroots organizations, and schools have come together to form “Cradle to Career” partnerships to ensure that all children, no matter their challenge, have equal and fair access to a public education.

I’d like to propose that it’s time to mirror the huge success of our educational equity efforts focused on our county’s younger population, and apply the same energy to an Aging Equity effort focused on our older adults. What many folks don’t realize is that older adults in Marin actually outnumber our children. In 2000, Marin had 11,000 more children and youth (ages 0-17) than people over 62, and by 2015, older adults outnumbered children and youth by 7,000. That number will continue to grow. It’s time to give our older residents a voice and get behind a county-wide “Retirement to Rest” initiative that mirrors our exemplary work in educational equity.

What are some of the resources, connections and services older adults might need as we strive for Aging Equity? Some might not have access to proper nutrition; others might need housing, and still others might need their options translated into their native language. Some older adults might have a home, but perhaps they have no nearby family and are isolated and prone to depression, while others need transportation to and from not only medical appointments but also to social engagements and the grocery store. Still others may have the physical things they need such as housing and food, but lack a purpose and need to find belonging. And those suffering from dementia or end of life challenges have another unique set of needs. No one organization can fully address the multitude of challenges that might cause inequity in access to the services and resources our neighbors need in order to age with dignity, independence and grace. We must band together.

The great news: we already have an initiative here in Marin dedicated to Aging Equity. I am honored to serve as Chair of the Marin County Aging Action Initiative (AAI), whose vision is to cultivate a county-wide, age-friendly environment, especially for those in need. Thanks to funding from the Marin County Board of Supervisors and support from the Aging and Adult Services division of Health and Human Services, AAI has grown to become a collaborative, collective effort of over 65 different agencies, grassroots organizations, commissions and neighborhood groups, working together toward its vision through education, advocacy and coordinated services.

Older adults are a treasure for this community. Aging Out Loud means celebrating the memories, experiences and contributions of Marin’s older adult population every day. Together, let’s ensure that every Marin resident has the connections, resources and services they need as they grow older. It’s the right and equitable thing to do.

Joe O’Hehir is CEO of Vivalon and Chair of Marin’s Active Aging Initiative.

This piece originally appeared in the Marin Independent Journal’s Marin Voice section on 5/29/17

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