This week we visited Casa de Manana, where we hosted an intergenerational discussion on age-friendly communities with the residents. After reporting the findings from our NAPs on the age-friendliness of La Jolla, Barrio Logan, and Golden Hill, we partnered with Casa de Manana residents in small groups to discuss essential features of an age-friendly community and propose ways to make the physical and social environment of the city more age friendly. Our elder partners provided great insight into the difficulties that seniors face daily, including narrow crosswalks and buses that do not allow enough time for seniors to board and settle. Most of our elder partners were also interested in creating more intergenerational activities to enhance social inclusion and respect for different generations, and they proposed activities that would benefit both the old and young. For instance, a resident suggested that students attend classes about current world issues with elders at Casa de Manana and/or receive tutoring and mentorship from the wise and experienced seniors. Another resident expressed interest in a combined senior and child care program where elders can help babysit toddlers. Hearing the elders’ perspective on age-friendly features was enlightening and helped me realize how age segregation in our society begets ageism and thus impeded healthy aging. Also, the wisdom, kindness, gratefulness, and humbleness exuded by Casa de Manana residents never ceased to amaze and inspire me. At the end of the discussion, a resident told me that she is proud of her children and the younger generations for the changes and innovations they have contributed to society, and that she is eager to see us students leave our mark on the world. I, too, am excited to see my peers and myself make an impact on our community and promote healthy aging.
In the beginning of class, we discussed the first few readings from Stoller and Gibson’s Worlds of Differences: Inequality in the Aging Experience, a collection of stories and poems about aging in society. This week’s discussion covered the theme of the life course perspective, the concept that people living in the same time may undergo similar global events but respond differently to such events based on their personal experiences and sociocultural identities. The stories in the book are powerful as they present a diversity of perspectives from different minority groups in the United States. As an immigrant in the country, I found myself and my family in the narratives about minority groups and the hardships they face – the anxiety about moving, the excruciating homesickness, and the exploitation of newcomers by a profit-driven society. Despite these challenges, many people flourish as they adapt to the new environment/system while maintaining their personal identity and integrity. As I reflected on the readings and my own experiences, I felt amazed by people’s resilience to adversity and determination to preserve their true selves. The book discussion was interesting as my classmates gave a great presentation on the relevant lessons that the readings aim to convey.
We then discussed the myths about aging and ways to debunk these misconceptions. As we are bombarded with distorted, unrepresentative images of elderly people, we become fearful of growing old, of losing our health, beauty, and vigor. Internalization of these negative age stereotypes not only undermines healthy aging in older adults but also widens the generational gap among different age groups. Since aging is not just about losing, it is important to recognize the many benefits we gain as we age so that we can embrace the natural process of aging. I am excited to work on this assignment and see my classmates’ completed projects as we have brainstormed and proposed many creative ways to present our facts about aging.
In our first meeting of spring quarter, we discussed the course logistics and projects for the second quarter of the program. Most of this quarter will be dedicated to working on our individual/group Healthy Aging Projects (HAP). Our group of six is working with Nina from last year’s LCS cohort to expand her project of installing sensory wellness gardens at various senior centers to facilitate seniors’ interaction with green space. We planned to assess the amount and quality of green space in different San Diego neighborhoods to determine areas that would benefit the most from the sensory gardens. As we discussed the design and theme of the garden, we came up with another idea of organizing a multigenerational pop up featuring green space and a garden/architectural design contest. We envision the pop up as an opportunity to bring the community together, enhance people’s interests in local green spaces, and assess community needs for sensory gardens. As the event requires a lot of planning, we do not expect to hold the event this quarter; our professors suggested that we hold the event in October 2018 to attract more participants and visitors. We also received valuable advice from our professors regarding fundraising for the event, publicizing the event, and contacting organizations and people who can help us. The next few weeks will be busy, but I am excited to work with other Life Course Scholars on the HAP.
The focus of this week’s class meeting was the NAP presentations on age friendliness of the La Jolla, Golden Hill, and Barrio Logan neighborhoods. The informative presentations provided insight into different aspects of the communities that promote or hinder healthy aging. My group assessed the age friendliness of Golden Hill, a neighborhood adjacent to Balboa Park. Despite living in San Diego for many years, I had never been to Golden Hill prior to the project. It was a new experience for me to walk through a neighborhood with the mindset of a senior and the comprehensive WHO checklist for age-friendly cities. The neighborhood’s beautiful historic architecture, wide sidewalks, and street trees made the walking experience enjoyable.
On Saturday afternoon, we hosted a senior prom with St. Patrick’s Day theme at Mary West Senior Center. Although the event took place after lunch, we served seniors plates of pizza, fruits and sweets, and juice – which the seniors enjoyed. We then enjoyed a surprise performance by a senior choir from the Center. The lovely performance made me realize that the seniors enjoyed planning and organizing the event as much as the students did. The crowing of the prom king and queen, recognition of the seniors with Oscar’s trophies, and the raffle and goody bags brought smiles to the seniors. The seniors I talked to were delighted to dance, take photos at the photo booth, and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Many asked if we would have another dance next year or anytime soon. I myself also had a great time at the dance, and I hope that the senior prom will become a tradition for the Mary West Center and the Life Course Scholars.
In this week’s class meeting, we discussed the progress of our NAP projects and preparations for the dances at Casa de Manana and Mary West centers. We had two different themes for the dances: A Night on the Red Carpet for Casa de Manana, and St. Patrick’s Day for Mary West.
For the NAP project, our group had visited Golden Hill on a Sunday morning and observed the landscape of the neighborhood adjacent to Balboa park. We noticed that Golden Hill had wide sidewalks with street trees, making parts of the county highly walkable (the steep hills appeared unfriendly for pedestrians). We also noted that many grocery stores in the neighborhood were small businesses rather than big corporations. We visited Golden Hill again on a Saturday morning a week after our first visit. This time, we intended to visit a senior center rather than wandering the streets. Online information about Golden Hill recreation center pointed us to the Golden Hill Recreation Center that offered various programs for youth and adults, but there was not a senior center. The recreation center looked like an elementary school with colorful walls and designs, suggesting that the center targeted children and teens more than adults and seniors. We did not have a chance to talk with the residents as we did not see many people out on Sunday and Saturday mornings.
On Friday night, we put on an Oscar-inspired Night on the Red Carpet dance at Casa de Manana. The two-person Hot Pursuit live band heated up the cold night with music from classic movies. Some Casa de Manana residents showed off their moves on the dance floor while others enjoyed watching the performances. The ensuing raffle was exciting as the seniors liked the prizes, but it was a little frustrating for seniors who did not win the raffle. The residents loved the photobooth and the small Polaroid photos that they could take home. The event was lovely, and I look forward to attending the St. Patrick’s dance at Mary West Center on March 10th!
We had a presentation and discussion of the book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite. This book provides well-researched evidence and philosophical questions to challenge the misrepresentation of aging that our media portray. Prior to reading this book, I did not realize how our policies are hostile to the older populations and how our fear of aging is essentially an aversion to our future, inevitable selves. I used to associate aging with negative stereotypes like decline in health and independence, but this book has convinced me to embrace the aging process and take pride in aging. The presenting group did a great job critiquing the book and connecting it to the previous book, Selling the Fountain of Youth.
After discussing the NAP project and preparation for the upcoming dances, we had the other half of the class, including me, present the Oral History projects. Through this project, I learned more about my dad’s background and how it influenced him to become the person he is today. I sometimes forget that before my dad took on the role of a father, he was once a child and a teenager who made the same mistakes as I did. As I wrote my dad’s memoir of his adolescence, I realized that his experiences were much more relatable to me than I previously thought. My dad was very excited about the project; he was happy that I wanted to interview him and write a memoir of his life. I planned to write the memoir in Vietnamese so my dad can read it, but my dad suggested that I write the memoir in English so his grandchildren, whom he dedicated the memoir to, can read it in the future. Both my dad and I enjoyed the project, and I plan on writing a memoir for my mom in the future.
Growing up in Linda Vista, I experienced firsthand the diversity of the community in a low-income neighborhood. In a food desert where access to fresh and nutritious food is limited, fast food chains flourish. Fast food restaurants are abundant in Linda Vista and are located near schools, residential areas, and healthcare clinics. Despite the scarcity of resources, Linda Vista is home to many immigrants and locals who make the community diverse and vibrant.
The close-knit community of Linda Vista attracted Corey, the director of Bayside, to the neighborhood. Bayside Community Center aims to strengthen the community through different resources and services, including tutoring for students, translation of forms and applications for non-English speakers, food for people with food insecurity, and health and wellness activities for seniors. Corey shared with us his journey with Bayside and what he envisioned the community to be in the future. A few months after Corey started working at Bayside, he was dismayed to learn that the center was bankrupt and on the verge of closing. However, moved by the community’s affection for Bayside, Corey was determined to revive the center and empower the community. The “young and broke” director was offered high amounts of money for the land that Bayside owned, but he rejected these offers from investors who wanted to build apartments and condos for rent on the property. The chance came when an advocate of public education offered to buy Bayside’s property to establish another public school in Linda Vista. Corey gladly accepted the offer because a public school was exactly what the community needed. The residents did not need more privately-owned housing that they could not afford, but a free education facility alongside the new Bayside center would greatly benefit the underserved Linda Vista community. The area around Bayside is undergoing a drastic transformation to become a vibrant community with small businesses surrounding the charter school and Bayside center. Corey’s story of how Bayside overcame financial hardships to continue its mission of providing important resources for the community was inspiring, and I am excited to see the center grow stronger with the community.
Our group then had a chance to participate in the Zumba class with the elders during our visit. The Zumba dance was an intense workout for me, but it was fun and refreshing to see everyone so engaged in the dance. After the dance, we enjoyed a potluck with the seniors. I met a retired teacher who now teaches English online to young girls and boys who have escaped from ISIS. I also chatted with a lady who graduated from the high school I attended in Linda Vista and was a graduate student at UCSD. She told me the challenges she faced as one of the very few female teaching assistants in the math department – most of her students were older than her as they attended college after returning from war, and her male colleagues and professors questioned her capability – she told me that our generation has an easier life and should take advantage of what previous generations have fought for. My visit to Bayside was enlightening as I met many inspiring and humble people, from the center staff to the Zumba class participants, who embodied the values of perseverance, compassion, and appreciation.
We started this week’s meeting by reflecting on our visit to Casa de Manana last week. The story about Alice, her activism in social justice issues in the past and present, and her current engagement in her community at age 98 was remarkable. The seniors we met at Casa de Manana were amicable, and I hope to be able to interact with them more at the upcoming dance.
We then had a group presentation on the book Selling the Fountain of Youth by Arlene Weintraub. This book provides a profound insight into the anti-aging industry: the secrets behind the doors of compounding pharmacies, the extreme measures people are willing to take to defy aging, and how the industry has flourished without scientific evidence for the effectiveness and/or safety of anti-aging medicine. Prior to reading this book, I did not know that the ubiquitous anti-aging products originate from an industry that is loosely regulated and yet has garnered support from many health professionals and celebrities. Despite some weaknesses that weaken the author’s argument against the anti-aging industry, this book has succeeded in educating the reader on the anti-aging industry that is usually invisible to the public and encouraging consumers to question the too-good-to-be-true advertisements and negative age stereotypes they are bombarded with.
Next, our class split into small committees to plan activities, decorations, and food and raffle for the dances at Casa de Manana Retirement Center and Gary and Mary West Center. We discussed the rebranding of the dance, the activities that would be appropriate for seniors, and the theme for decorations. Our decorations committee came up with different dance themes, one of which was The Great Gatsby.
The class reconvened for a guest presentation from the founders of the Get a Cane organization, a nonprofit that collect donated mobility devices and distribute them to people who otherwise cannot afford the mobility devices they need. The organization has served many people, including seniors and refugees with financial struggles, and the effort that the founders and members of the organization put into serving the community is truly inspiring.
Half of the class then presented on their extraordinary persons – their grandparent, parent, or neighbor. The stories about these extraordinary persons were compelling and taught me important lessons on the values of family, courage, sacrifice, and kindness. I am glad and grateful that the Oral History project provided a chance for these remarkable stories to be told, recorded, and preserved over time.
Upon arriving at Casa de Manana Retirement Community, I immediately felt refreshed and energized by the breathtaking view of the La Jolla Cove. Originally a hotel, the beachfront retirement center is aesthetic in its location in La Jolla, its adorned ceiling, and its hallways showcasing the artwork of many artistic residents. Like the rose bushes dedicated to every single resident, Casa de Manana blooms with activities and services that accommodate individual needs of the elderly residents. The on-site wellness clinic, the dining hall overlooking the ocean, the resident-run library and trading post, the musical and exercise programs, and the frequent outings to local concerts and theater performances, to name but a few, enhance both physical and mental well-being of the residents by encouraging them to be actively involved and engaged in their community. “Because the worst thing about aging is the feeling of loneliness and not doing anything productive,” commented a resident who is happy to volunteer at the trading post and participate in a variety of activities offered at Casa de Manana. Another resident we met in the hallway recently participated in a swimming contest against other seniors in the 90-year-old group. The energy and youthfulness of the residents make Casa de Manana a truly vibrant home.
After our cohort split into small groups, each having chance to chat with one or two residents at Casa de Manana. Our group had a conversation with two lovely ladies and heard their stories – their occupations before retirement, their families and children, and how they came to choose Casa de Manana as their home. Both ladies exuded radiance as they revealed the many activities they are involved in after retirement, expressed their gratitude for the opportunities life has offered, and shared their words of wisdom with us, one of which was to be flexible because you’ll never know where life will take you. When we invited the ladies to the tea dance to be held at Casa de Manana in March, they showed a little nervousness because “I danced with the same partner for 50 years and cannot dance with anyone else because I don’t know their moves.” I found this remark as sweet as the way they delivered it with charming laughs.
The residents at Casa de Manana defy the stereotypical image of seniors that mainstream media portray. At age sixty and above, these seniors lead independent and productive lives as they play sports, volunteer in the community, and organize and participate in the women’s march to voice their opinions on important sociopolitical issues. There is obviously more to aging than just watching your body and health decline!
On the other hand, the cost of living at Casa de Manana is not affordable for a lot of our seniors, including those who live in poverty. Despite the tremendous amount of effort and dedication that many non-profit organizations like Serving Seniors put into improving the lives of low-income seniors, finite funding and financial support, which is heavily influenced by political decisions and public policies, limits the services and resources they can provide as well as the number of seniors they can serve. How we can provide a larger population of seniors with services and activities like those at Casa de Manana remains a riddle to be solved.
I missed the first half of our class meeting, so I didn’t get to hear the LCS alumni share about their Healthy Aging projects. We spent the second half of class discussing our book presentation and Neighborhood Assessment (NAP) projects as well as the senior prom that will take place in March. The NAP is one of our major projects in Winter quarter. For this project, we will evaluate the age-friendliness of a San Diego neighborhood of choice as we walk through the neighborhood ourselves and conduct literature search on the community’s demographics and policies. The three neighborhoods our cohort has chosen are Golden Hill/North Park, Barrio Logan, and La Jolla. Through exploring the community’s demographics, public policies and social services, and physical construction of the neighborhood, we will assess whether the community provides adequate support and an inclusive environment for our aging population. As individuals are subject to local policies and social norms, our aging experiences are strongly influenced by the communities we live in. The goal of the project is to expose us to the challenges that our seniors face in certain communities and inspire us to consider ways to improve our communities’ age friendliness in preparation for the fast-approaching demographic transition to older populations.