It is estimated 21% of Santa Clarita’s population is seniors. We are so lucky to have such a rich diversity of generations here in the Santa Clarita Valley. Our parents and grandparents play a critical role on who we are, and who our children become. According to AARP, by 2030, one of every five people in the U.S. will be 65 or older. By 2035, the number older than 65 will be greater than the number under 18. That statistic comes with great responsibility.
In 2019, then-mayor and current Councilwoman Marsha McLean wrote a letter to AARP on behalf of the city expressing excitement about the city’s opportunity to become an “age-friendly community.” In the letter, the mayor committed to four distinct steps for Santa Clarita: (1) establishing mechanisms to involve senior residents, (2) Assessing the age-friendliness of the community, (3) developing a community-wide action plan based on the findings of the assessment, and (4) Identifying indicators of progress. In its action plan submitted to AARP, the city submitted its Parks and Recreation five-year work plan. The city’s plan is downloadable from the AARP website.
Santa Clarita is richly blessed with two community centers, a new senior center, three library branches and more than 30 parks, all of which add to the quality of life for all residents. But what happens if seniors cannot drive to these locations or need transportation outside the free bus times? What happens if it is 100-plus degrees outside while seniors wait for a city bus in the summer months? What happens if there are other barriers to participation, such as language, or mobility? What mechanisms have been established per McLean’s 2019 letter to “involve senior residents”? The city’s plan does not fully address these issues. I have looked online to see if any progress reports or updates on the city and then-mayor’s commitment toward “Age Friendliness” have been submitted, and I see none. According to the city’s own website, the city has not progressed since 2019 on its Age Friendly Journey. See bit.ly/3JFEfPU.
The city should continue to invest in direct mail and print marketing as to not leave behind seniors who are not using social media or aren’t computer-comfortable. As we get older, social media becomes less important but the modes of communicating in a way that reaches our seniors becomes MORE important. A look at the AARP Age-Friendly Community rates Santa Clarita at 49 out of 100 possible points in Age Friendliness. Santa Clarita ranked 36/100 on housing affordability, 37/100 on civic and social involvement for seniors and its highest score was a 61 for senior opportunities. These scores do not reflect a true commitment to age friendliness. We can do better. I wonder, what steps have been taken?
Seniors have so much wisdom and insight to share. We can learn from their experiences on how to “do better” and “be better.” One of my favorite activities pre-COVID was spending time with the seniors at the Senior Center at their annual holiday parties. I would love to see a “Grandfriends” program where seniors and school children/teenagers are matched to spend time together, perhaps once per month or quarter. Older adults can learn new technologies from the younger generation and the youth can benefit from mature mentoring from their wise friends. Intergenerational mentoring works to break down generational stereotypes. It also helps children understand and later accept the aging of their parents and grandparents, AND their own eventual aging. It invigorates and energizes older adults. The connections help reduce the likelihood of depression in the elderly and reduce the isolation. Some children don’t have grandparents, so mentoring fills a void. School-aged children can see residents using assistive devices like walkers and wheelchairs, dispelling any fears or concerns, which lets kids know there is nothing to be afraid of and reassure them their older friends are safe and OK.
Activities that initiate and strengthen intergenerational relationships can include swapping stories and storytelling, which help build a connection. Perhaps your child could learn to weave, crochet, fish, bake, or even take care of animals from a senior. Reading to each other, scrapbooking, establishing phone pals, talking about ethnic heritage and sharing customs, or relating special stories passed down from that culture, build rapport. Discussing hobbies and sharing examples could be fun. The opportunities are endless.
I look forward to the day when we can all go back to the Senior Center and see our senior friends without restrictions and without impacting seniors’ health and safety. In the meantime, three years after the commitment, perhaps we can be working on our age friendliness scores to get our seniors back into our community. Their engagement leads to longer life outcomes for them, and richer life experiences for us!