Every May, our nation observes Older Americans Month (OAM). At Charles E. Smith Life Communities (CESLC), we take this opportunity to pause, reflect and honor the older adults who call our community home. This year, the Administration for Community Living has designated the 2021 theme as Communities of Strength. This is a unique chance for us to honor older adults and pay tribute to their contributions, their histories and their experiences.

Over the years, Older Americans Month has been a time to acknowledge the contributions of past and current older individuals to our country – in particular, those who defended our country. OAM is celebrated across the country through ceremonies, fairs and other events.

When OAM was established in 1963, approximately one-third of the nation’s 17 million older adults lived in poverty. President John F. Kennedy called a meeting with members of the National Council of Senior Citizens to address growing concerns and discuss how best to help America’s older population. To raise awareness of the problems facing older Americans and to honor them, Kennedy and the Council proclaimed May as Senior Citizens Month.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Older Americans Act and formally declared May to be observed as Older Americans Month. The act raised awareness, encouraged community involvement and also resulted in actions that spurred positive change, federal support and financial assistance for older Americans.

The Older Americans Act established the Administration on Aging, which is the first federal agency designed to address the issues faced by older Americans. It also introduced nutrition programs, federally funded adult day care, transportation assistance, legal assistance and other important services for elders. Finally, the Act paved the way to creating and passing the Medicare program – resulting in improved and increased healthcare services for older adults.

Honoring and celebrating our older generation has been the cornerstone of the care and support we provide at Charles E. Smith Life Communities. Our community was founded in 1910 when it became apparent that there was a need to support the aging members of the Jewish community. Today, we continue to provide a safe and comfortable community for older adults from all faiths and across all walks of life, honoring their successes, failures, joys and difficulties.

While we strive to honor and uplift our residents every day of the year, OAM is a chance for us to pay close attention to nurturing our elders, reinforcing their strength and providing them what is needed to thrive. Personal connection is one of the most important parts of life and aging well – it has a vital role in our health and well-being.

If you are looking for ways to celebrate and honor the older adults in your life this OAM, here are some enrichment programs that you can explore to promote joy and help build community in your life.

Get outside.

Seeing other people, even from a distance, can foster a sense of connection and provide a rich sense of community. Since the spring weather is perfect for outdoor events, this is the perfect opportunity to plan events that bring the people you love together while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Here are some ideas of things you can do:

  • Host a game night outside with contactless games like charades. If everyone in your family has been vaccinated, you could also participate in closer-in games like board games or badminton.
  • Hold a movie night in your driveway for friends, family and the neighborhood. Be sure to have blankets and heaters on-hand in case the weather turns chilly. Choose a lighthearted movie or a feel-good comedy that will have everyone smiling.
  • Music always is fun, so why not hold a dance party? Put on some music, make some delicious canapes and invite friends and family to join you for a night dancing under the stars.

Form intergenerational pen pals.

Making friends and connecting with people of different generations can help all of us reduce isolation, feel more connected and learn more about others. Younger people have so much to learn from the knowledge and wisdom of our elders, and older adults can benefit from the exuberance, curiosity and pop culture that younger individuals can bring to the table.

There are many ways to form a pen pal group – or a keyboard pal group, if you prefer using a more technological option for yourself or a loved one. Connect with local schools, recreational organizations, churches or other groups to help find and connect pals. Another option is to ask long-distance relatives or other loved ones who haven’t been able to visit or see each other in person over the past year, and form a more informal pen-pal group with those participants.

Participate in a group project.

Working together to create something like an art project can build a feeling of community even if the participants aren’t all together. There are lots of hobbies you and your loved one can do with other friends and family members, even if you’re separated by the miles. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Write a story together. Start with a theme or writing prompt and have your loved one and other family members add to the story in a sort of round-robin. You may be surprised at the creativity, humor and insight your family members instill into the story. When it’s complete, consider binding the story into a coffee table book that can be gifted to all the participants.
  • Find opportunities within your community to donate time, whether that’s through planting a community garden, cleaning up along highways or anything else that piques your interest.

For more than a century, CESLC has been nurturing and caring for older adults in our community. Every day, we strive to bring new opportunities that build collaboration and community for residents. This May, we will celebrate them through special programs and events that focus on promoting ways to connect and remain strong, no matter what challenges we face.