By Molly Singer, Executive Director of Capitol Hill Village in Washington D.C.
Recently, I went to a wonderful poetry reading at The Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., featuring two Latin American poets and one Filipina American poet. The poetry reading was a part of the One Life: Dolores Huerta exhibit. Huerta is the (greatly under-recognized) co-founder of the American Farmworkers movement. The poetry reflected on the immense work of Huerta and her unceasing commitment to human rights. The poets themselves discussed how Huerta’s experience has inspired their work and on how poetry is a part of community expression and articulates nuances and dimensions of human experience not easily expressed in other formats.
One theme of the poetry was the physicality of Huerta and of farm work. Huerta believed strongly that if you have nothing else to give a cause (no money, no fancy ideas), you have your body. A refrain in one of the poems was “get off the sidewalk”, which was meant to beckon people into the streets and march and engage in the struggle. In reflecting on this poetry, Huerta’s amazing and under-recognized work and my one-year anniversary at Capitol Hill Village, the “get off the sidewalk” refrain resonates with me. I continue to be happy and excited about this work and encourage our community to get “off the sidewalk” and get involved.
To me, this reading, the exhibit and the themes of poetry apply to our work at Capitol Hill Village and The Village Movement, whose mission is to elevate the conversation around longevity and to increase awareness and engagement on the subject. We are partnering with community members, families, health care professionals, government agencies and the private sector to examine how longevity is impacting all aspects of our society. And in turn, how we, as a thoughtful, caring community, are supporting long life — whether it’s through services, technology, policies or products.
In some ways, I feel as though the phenomena of long life (today we outlive our grandparents by 35 years) is the next global warming issue. By this I mean that this issue impacts us personally in our quality of life and is one that has large social, political and economic implications that need to be addressed sooner rather than later and requires the input from many facets of world. At the same time, like with global warming, there are small habits and actions we can each take every day to make the world a better place for seniors.
The gift of long life and the reality of an aging society is not a passing fad or a demographic blip like a baby boom, which will change over time. Extended lifespan in America is the culmination of improved health, medical and life practices. It has very real outcomes including changing a population that is ready and willing to be active community members, evolving physical, social and cognitive needs and new infrastructure demands. It also impacts the next generation because individuals are drawing on public resources (e.g. social security), using their own life savings and not passing them on through inheritance. And there is a significant impact on families caring for older family members. The adult children of seniors are often parents and grandparents themselves and find that while caring for their own parents and grandparents is a gift, it requires precious time and resources that can keep them from other activities or priorities. Of course, seniors are also contributing their wisdom and gifts to their own families, communities and to the economy, so there are many facets to the gem. Regardless, it is a rare family not impacted by longevity, yet there is so little discussion around it. It’s like a box we are all carrying, but no one is exploring its contents.
The Village Movement, and specifically Capitol Hill Village, works on longevity at the personal, family and community level. We partner, first and foremost, with individuals and families who are experiencing long life. We work to ensure that there are community services and programs. We create the services and programs with our staff and our cohort of over 400 volunteers. We also work with government agencies, service providers, entrepreneurs and others to ensure that our community is continually evolving to become the model that supports long life and leverages the assets of all citizens.
Like other great movements, the one to build a better society for seniors is one that requires that we all “get off the sidewalk” and into the dialogue. Each of us has something to contribute to the conversation and changes to build a society that celebrates long life as a gift and leverages the terrific assets of seniors to build communities and families that we all want to be a part of.
Over the next several months Capitol Hill Village will be designing and hosting a range of programs to bring our community together to learn about health, housing, community services and development. My goal is that we will, together, develop a vision about what a society that supports long life and respects community looks like, sounds like and acts like. We will translate that vision into a plan which ensures that the Capitol Hill that is evolving and emerging everyday realizes that vision.
We look forward to community members getting “off the sidewalk” to participate in this conversation. We need our neighbors to learn about the needs, ideas and abilities of seniors and how our communities can leverage those assets. It’s easy to sit down and listen to an inspiring program on NPR or to read an innovative blog about a great program somewhere else. It’s fun to watch a TEDx Talk and believe that these models should be in our own communities.
It’s easy to do all of that. It’s hard to get off the sidewalk and offer your own energy to make it happen, but I believe we will.
Molly Singer is the executive director of Capitol Hill Village, a community based organization committed to building a community where citizens age on their own terms and are engaged, active and safe. She has over 25 years’ experience in organizational management, having worked across government, non-profit, private sector and as a small business owner. Singer’s particular imprimatur is to turn good ideas into excellent outcomes. She lives in Washington D.C. where she is a cultural junkie, taking in theater, poetry, exhibits and appreciating craft. She is an alumna of Drew University and University of North Carolina.