With each passing year and as we head into our 6th Annual Celebrating Seniors Week (May 12-19), our organization is making an impact that goes well beyond our own backyard. 

Most recently, I was part of a three-person Celebrating Seniors team that traveled in March to Washington, D.C. to present the concept of Celebrating Seniors at the American Society on Aging’s National “Aging In America 2016” Conference. 

Our presentation was well attended, well received and we generated a good amount of interest in the “toolkit” that provides a blueprint for others to emulate our Celebrating Seniors model. It was a thrill to receive those first orders — and to apply the proceeds from the sale of those toolkits to benefit older adults in Forest Park, River Forest, and Oak Park. 

We were further honored when the American Society on Aging (ASA) Chicagoland invited us to present the Celebrating Seniors concept to local membership. 

In Washington, it was a humbling experience to be surrounded by so many people who have done so much to celebrate, safeguard, and meet the needs of older adults all over the United States. These people don’t just pay lip service to the value of older adults but have dedicated their personal and professional lives to helping us all age with grace and dignity. 

Unsurprisingly, because we are a youth-worshiping and age-denying society, the idea that age should be celebrated has met with some resistance even here in our own communities. We are uncomfortable discussing what it means to grow older, and go to great lengths to avoid philosophical discussions about the purpose and meaning found in later life. 

In fact, ageism — defined as the discrimination against, or stereotyping of, people based on their age — seems to be the only socially acceptable “ism” left in America today. It’s easy to make fun of old people and it’s even easier to discriminate against them. 

Negative attitudes about aging and older adults have persisted regardless of the time period or the accomplishments of any age cohort. Ageism runs rampant in the greeting card aisle, in the media, and in all our social institutions. 

The two dominant media portrayals of older adults are a pair of well-to-do older adults frolicking happily on the beach, contrasted by an older adult near despair, head in hands. Is there really no in-between? Is one of those extremes how you imagine yourself aging? I think not. 

Through our commitment to celebrating older adults, we count it a privilege to continue leading the way in redefining, in a positive way, what it means to be old. 

For more information about Celebrating Seniors, and the week of activities coming up, please visit www.celebratingseniors.net. 

Thank you for joining us as we honor older adults, celebrate lives well lived, and grow a sense of community that will be the envy of the world.

Jim Flanagan is chairman of the Celebrating Seniors Coalition and the OP-RF Township Senior Services Committee.

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