When I moved to Oak Park two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had walked into a social gerontologist’s dream: a celebration and the related veneration of people who are older and aging.

As a gerontologist since 2000, my vocation centers on education, research, and service-based practice — all in the spirit of improving the lives of older adults.

That certainly describes the Oak Park/River Forest Senior Services Committee, which I joined shortly after moving to the community. And it also captures the heart of the Celebrating Seniors Coalition, which draws from some of those committee members as well as others from throughout the community.

During my first meeting of the Senior Services Committee, several things struck me as unique, important, and wonderful.

First, I was impressed with the level of commitment from those sitting around the table. Their passion to come together in their free time to work for and advocate on the behalf of older adults was inspiring and encouraging.

Secondly, there was a high level of enthusiasm and a considerable amount of caring demonstrated in the lively discussions centering on issues facing older adults in our communities.

Lastly, my interest was piqued and my gerontological heart warmed by the mention of Celebrating Seniors Week. I’ve been in the field of aging long enough to know that “celebrating” and “aging” are rarely uttered in the same breath.

Since January, when I joined the coalition, I have come to not only understand Celebrating Seniors but also fully embrace the vision, mission, and related efforts of the cause.

After working with fellow committee members to plan events, organize the closing luncheon, and celebrate growing older and aging in a variety of ways, Celebrating Seniors Week 2015 was a colossal success on many levels.

We provided opportunities for engagement and productive aging, for education and empowerment for older adults, and for the joyous celebration of longevity and everything associated with living a long life. In many ways, we empowered our neighbors to be themselves — and to have fun — as they age.

Celebrating Seniors was founded in 2010 and is dedicated to honoring, recognizing and serving seniors in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park.

If you participated in Celebrating Seniors Week 2015 or read the Celebrating Seniors Resource Guide, then you also know that the organization concentrates on four main objectives: to facilitate cooperation between the business community, government agencies and non-profit organizations for the benefit of the senior population; to promote senior groups and organizations that serve persons 60 and older; to raise public awareness of issues affecting seniors; and to raise funds for older adults at risk.

In short, Celebrating Seniors intentionally works to create a local culture that dismantles ageism, positively changes how we think about aging, and provides opportunities to improve the lives of older adults and their families at the individual and community levels. This work is vital and important for everyone at all ages.

I appreciate the efforts and endeavors of everyone involved with the coalition and Celebrating Seniors Week, and invite you to learn more at www.celebratingseniors.net.

Dr. Lydia Manning teaches, conducts research, coordinates graduate programs, and directs the Center for Gerontology at Concordia University Chicago in River Forest.

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