Older Californians are finding ways to make their mark during COVID-19 pandemic

By Kim McCoy Wade, Special to CalMatters

Older adults were the first to be asked to stay at home – but you are certainly not sitting out these challenging times during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even behind closed doors and face masks, you are meeting this moment and finding new ways to serve your community and support your loved ones.

Take Alexa Hauser from Nevada City in Northern California. She is part of a community project that grows organic food. She is making her mark by helping to cultivate an additional 300 square feet of bed space to grow even more fresh produce to meet the needs of her community. Alexa tells me, “At age 69 I’m so delighted to have a project where I get to work with my neighbors, contribute to our health and feel grounded at the same time.”

Linda Lyons, a retired geriatric social worker, has spent the last decade volunteering to work the phones at Friendship Line California, talking with adults who call-in. Even these days, Linda suits up every Monday with a pair of gloves and her facemask, ready to connect with seniors like her. Her work, she says, is important – especially for callers who are feeling lonely or anxious through these difficult moments.

Alexa and Linda are just two of millions of older Californians making their mark every day, contributing to California’s vitality and sense of community as employees, employers, volunteers, parents, grandparents, mentors, artists, advocates, innovators and more. Your resiliency, commitment to building strong connections in your community, and a unique sense of history and purpose make you outstanding role models amid a difficult time.

For all of us, the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 has ushered in a chaotic and distressing season of life. For older adults, connecting with a new purpose, as well as info and resources, is vital to surviving and thriving during the weeks and months ahead. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for the creation of a Master Plan for Aging – a blueprint that could be used by the state government, local communities, private organizations and philanthropy to promote an age-friendly California.

Planning has now pivoted to rapid response. To fight the spread of COVID-19, Newsom and the California Department of Aging launched a series of campaigns with older Californians, each of which has built upon the intent and purpose of the Master Plan.

We started with the “Stay Home. Save Lives. Check-In.” campaign: an all-hands-on-deck effort for neighbors of all ages to check-in with older Californians and make sure you have what you need to stay nourished, healthy and connected while staying at home.

And this month, we are celebrating the unique contributions you are making to keep your communities safe and healthy by celebrating all you are doing to Make Your Mark during Older Californians Month.

Our state is home to some 8.2 million Californians aged 60 or older – 1 in 5 Californians now and growing to 1 in 4 by 2030. Older Californians’ purposeful leadership and service are critical to our state, both in the midst of an unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, as well as throughout the recovery phase and into a new future.

As we all learn how to adapt under these most unusual circumstances, you – the older adults in our communities – are demonstrating your unique sense of purpose, sense of history, and sense of service, making your mark on those around you. By any objective measure, your work is essential and life-saving. You deserve all generations’ recognition and appreciation during Older Californians Month and beyond.

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Kim McCoy Wade is the director of the California Department of Aging,  [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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