This was our first week back after spring break! We’ve already started planning our Healthy Aging Project for the quarter and my group submitted a proposal for an intergenerational walk called “Walks of Life”. We took into consideration that it might be difficult for some seniors to take part in walk that spans several miles, so we are planning on making it span no longer than 1-2 miles or about 3 kilometers. To make it intergenerational, we are planning on reaching out to UCSD students and even local high school and elementary school students to attend the event. We are currently trying to finalize the venue, but due to the lengthy time it takes to secure permits for outdoor venues in conjunction with our restricted timeline to make this event happen, we are struggling a little bit. However, if we cannot secure a venue that requires permits, we have a few venues in mind that are public places that will not require such permits. This healthy aging project aims to establish a sustainable event that fosters intergenerational interaction, connections among community members, and increase awareness of healthy and accessible physical activities such as walking. Studies have proven that seniors that partake in regular physical activity, such as walking, have a reduced likelihood for chronic conditions and have improved heart health. We hope to inspire the seniors that partake in this event to become more physically active. We have a budget of $800 and we are going to start seeking sponsors to cover certain costs for the event such as snacks, water, t-shirts, and flyers. It’s going to take quite a bit of effort to make this event happen under a restricted budget and timeline, but I have full confidence in my group and in myself to accomplish this!
We wrapped up our final class of Winter quarter with a class potluck! It was great seeing some students cooking up traditional recipes for us all to try. We additionally held discussion about our West Center Prom. It was overall an amazing experience that brought smiles to all in attendance; however, it felt a bit rushed due to miscommunication with West Center staff. It felt like there was no real time to enjoy the moment as every item on the agenda was rushed in a structured manner. Hopefully, the next cohort will be allotted more time to enjoy this event. All students went around and shared something that had the greatest impact on them from this quarter. Everyone seemed to have similar memories and experiences they wanted to share. We all mentioned to some degree how the struggles of the elder population are not talked about nearly enough. I did not consider viewing the built environment through a lens of elder accessibility until we did our NAP projects. I’m so grateful for that experience because now I am much more aware of how our built environment can inhibit access for people with disabilities. I’ve shared what I’ve learned with my friends outside of the class and it has seemed to peak their interests as well. The housing tour also had great impact on me as we witnessed first-hand the struggle of the elderly population that is living at or below the federal poverty line in securing housing. I feel this is also an issue that is not talked about nearly enough. And seeing Casa de Manana in comparison to the other housing options just really made this issue hit home for a lot of us. Raising awareness to this issue is the first step in making any real progress or change, and the Life Course Scholar Program has definitely made me and my peers more aware and wanting to take action. We wrapped up class by beginning discussion on what we want to do for our HAP projects next quarter. I have settled into a group that wants to put together an intergenerational walk/marathon that is currently called Walks of All Life. We’ve begun discussion as to possible venues, fundraising options, music and entertainment, and outreach to get people to attend this event. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this project come to life.
On March 9th, we put on a prom at the West Senior Center. We had visited this center once earlier in the quarter, so we were already familiar with a lot of people in attendance. It was difficult planning this prom after we had already put on the prom at Casa de Mañana because of the stark differences in quality of life between the two populations. The residents at Casa are well off, very healthy and look great for their ages, and are living in luxury; whereas the folks that come through the West Center are living at or below the poverty line, come to the center to receive a hot meal that they might otherwise not have, and overall seem less healthy than the residents of Casa perhaps due to the high costs of healthcare. We put together several items that we could raffle off to the folks at the West Center, and they were very simple things such as a plant or a $10 gift card to Subway but they were still ecstatic to receive these things. We also put together goodie bags for all in attendance also comprised of simple things such as socks, toothpaste, and soap. We also created a photo booth backdrop where attendees could take a polaroid as a take home keepsake memory of the event. Everyone in attendance seemed very happy that we could put this event together for them and so many people came up to me to personally tell me thank you. It was a very heartwarming experience.
On February 25th, we put together a prom for the residents of Casa de Mañana! Planning this event was much different than planning for the event at West Center because the food and entertainment was already provided by Casa de Mañana, whereas for West Center, we had to apportion a budget to purchase these things for the event ourselves. This is very reflective of the stark differences between both centers. Casa de Mañana is a retirement home for the affluent due to the high cost of living there, and the West Center is a center for seniors at or below the poverty line to have a place for socialization and to get a hot meal. It was very cute and heartwarming though to see the residents of Casa de Mañana light up at this event and get up and dance and be so active at their age. I was not a part of the group that had organized the Casa de Mañana prom because the class was divided to organize two proms at two locations. I have been on the team putting together the West Center Prom, which will be taking place this weekend. We’ve decided on a carnival theme with food and decorations adhering to said theme. We’ve decided to do a Costco run to grab food for attendees, we’ve ordered our decorations from amazon, we’ve got props to put together a photo booth so that attendees with have a piece of the event to take home with them, and I am working on putting together a playlist for the prom! We’ve also put together goody bags for attendees to take home with them comprised of gift cards towards food, socks, and toothpaste/toothbrushes. I’m so excited to see how it all comes together and can’t wait to see how happy it will make the people at West Center.
My group and I decided on assessing the Hillcrest area for our NAP. I’ve visited Hillcrest several times before with friends, but had never considered the area in the context of friendly aging. This project had forced us to analyze the area through a different lens. A noteworthy attribute of the Hillcrest area is that it is a self-attributed space for the LGBTQ+ community, so it allows the older population that identifies in this category to age in an inclusive and acceptive place. There is even an LGBT Center in the area with a subdivision that caters specifically to seniors, in addition to other community centers; so, there are several social resources in Hillcrest. We also came across a daycare center for individuals that are on the spectrum of Alzheimer’s, and this daycare even offered resources for caregivers of individuals Alzheimer’s as that is also an incredibly taxing position to be in. An issue with the area is the high cost of housing and lack of affordable housing units. We found transportation in Hillcrest to be adequate in terms of accessibility and age-friendliness. MTS Access is an available option for priority transportation for individuals with disabilities. Although Hillcrest is considered to be a hub for social activities and nightlife, most of these activities are catered more towards younger demographics. The recommendations we proposed to make Hillcrest a more age friendly neighborhood would be to include more social activities marketed towards people of all ages, to increase civic opportunities and affordable housing units, and to improve walkability in public spaces.
This quarter has gone by incredibly fast and it’s insane how much we’ve done in just these few short weeks. We’ve visited a broad range of sites that covered run-down affordable housing options for seniors, to high-end luxury retirement living that we all aspire to one day retire in. Last week, I presented a current event related to aging, and my group decided to present on the topic of the senior co-housing trend. More and more seniors are wanting to stay in their homes for longer for two primary reasons: socialization and cost-sharing. As the life expectancy increases for older adults, it becomes more and more difficult to find affordable housing options that fit their needs, and co-housing might be able to help address the issue. By co-housing, it can reduce loneliness and the costs for living aid as such costs would be split amongst the residents. Our focus in the class has now shifted towards our HAPs and NAPs. I am working towards the West Senior Center Prom, which will take place on March 9th. We decided on a carnival theme, and now we are working on making it all happen. A lot of planning is involved, including securing food from Costco, assembling goody bags for all in attendance, creating a playlist and games to play at the event, and more. For our NAP, our group has decided to focus on the Hillcrest area. We have visited our site once, and actually lucked into an interview with a woman that works for an Alzheimer’s daycare center in that area. Speaking with her was very enlightening and gave us more insight into what a day in the life really is for an individual with Alzheimer’s. We are planning on visiting the site again soon to gather more data. Next week, I am presenting my EP project that I chose to do on my dad. It was an incredible experience because he is a man that does not speak about himself at all, and I feel I really got to know him a lot better through the course of this assignment.
This site visit was completely different than any other site we had previously visited. Casa de Mañana is a high-end retirement community, and it definitely shows. Traditional apartments costs start at $4,300 a month, and the minimum monthly cost of a deluxe villa is as high as $11,725. This is more than a lot of people can afford in their entire lifetime, let alone in their years of retirement. However, Casa de Mañana does pride itself in all the amenities included in these costs including hot food made to order, lunch and dinner with table service and salad bar, transportation options to local conveniences and to activities throughout San Diego, resident-led clubs and weekly events and outings, exercise classes, classes and lectures, a library, a theater, and more. It’s a beautiful place to aspire to settle in one’s retirement years, and it was great getting to meet some of the residents. The resident we spoke to were in their 90s, but it definitely did not show. Quality of living definitely has a significant impact in how we age, and the stark contrast was exhibited in our visit to the Gary and Mary West Center. A majority of the people there were at or below the federal poverty level and struggle to even afford the costs of basic medical care and regular meals. A lot of the people we had met there had actually depended on the Gary and Mary West Center for food. Having the opportunity to visit both Casa de Mañana and the Gary and Mary West Center was an incredibly eye opening experience and demonstrated the disparities currently existing in the quality of life of people in that age demographic in this country.
On Saturday, we met as a group and took a tour of affordable housing option for seniors in San Diego. We visited six different sites downtown and ended with a seventh site in North Park. Melinda Forstey, the Chief Administrative Officer of Serving Seniors, had debriefed us at the first site with statistics regarding the state of housing in this country for seniors living below the federal poverty level of $12,490 as an annual income. First of all, while this federal poverty level has been adjusted for inflation, it still is based on the 1955 living of the average family spending one third of their income on food. We are all aware the costs of housing have dramatically increased since then, especially the high rates in San Diego. 11% of seniors aged 65 or older in California live at or below this federal poverty level. Representatives have attempted to adjust legislation to update the federal poverty level to reflect accurately to living standards of today, but not much has actually been done. As a result, many seniors have incredibly limited options for affordable housing, and the options that exist are often burdened with lengthy waitlists that don’t really move because that would require another senior to move out.
It was really exciting to see the North Park Senior Apartments because it is such a modern and progressive unit that truly paid attention to detail. It is a community that is entirely welcoming of LGBTQ seniors, and it serving as a national model for similar future developments. The complex encouraged reduced automobile dependency by offering much fewer parking spots than there are apartments, but residents seem happy to give up their car in exchange for living here. The community of residents just seems very well integrated and it was beautiful to see how they each decorated their doors to reflect themselves as a part of something bigger. There were so many shared open spaces all throughout the complex, all organized with different colored floors to engage the memory of the older residents. It’s truly a one of a kind and innovative project, and I hope that future affordable housing units can take note and grow from here.
This week we had our site visit at the Gary and Mary West Center. Before we took a tour, we were briefed for about thirty minutes on what to expect. We had learned that a majority of the people there were under the national poverty level and were incredibly dependent on Social Security Income. This money, however, primarily covers their costs for housing because rent costs in San Diego are so expensive. Therefore, a lot of the people there are dependent on the center for food. The center provides breakfast and lunch every day, 365 days a year and free of cost. Not only that, but the center also takes care of basic doctor checkups, dental care, and provides resources and referrals to legal and psychiatric services. Health in elderly people is reliant on healthy and nutritious foods, and not only that but a healthy social life can also significantly aid health. At this center, all these things are provided in order to maintain health in the people that come there because in the long run, that makes things much easier and affordable than having to cover healthcare costs of a person with already deteriorating health. A lot of the people I had spoken to there said that they were alone and without family in San Diego, or that if they did have family there, they were too afraid to live with them because they felt that they would be a burden. It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories but witnessing first-hand how this center had acted as a means of gaining a second family was really great. You could really tell that a lot of these people have formed strong friendships and bonds with each other because they see each other there every day.
This last Wednesday we went to the Bayside Community Center to do intergenerational Zumba! I had an amazing time and it was so great seeing women of that age still being so active and full of life. It was actually a full workout, and I was sweating by the end of it. I’m very impressed by the Zumba abilities of these women and I can only hope that I too will still be doing Zumba when I’m that age. I had spoken to a few of the women there and they were all incredibly sweet people. They took an active interest in learning more about my classes at UCSD and about my passions in life. One woman told me that classes only cost $4 a week so I’m convinced to maybe come back again some time. It was great to not only get to know these women a little better, but I feel like I also go to know some of my classmates a little better too. We all let loose and had fun together, as opposed to a normal UCSD classroom environment which tends to not promote as friendly of an engagement. I’m very excited for our trip to the Casa Da Mañana Retirement Community next week. Although it was very fun to do Zumba with these women, I’m excited to have an opportunity to sit down and have a real talk with some residents there next week. It’s always interesting to hear some stories of people from different walks of life, and I’m sure they have some amazing stories to share. And I love seeing the look on people’s faces when you genuinely want to know more about them!