Vision For Yonkers
On April 3, 2006 we gathered together to create a new shared vision for older adults in Yonkers. We used the following paper to begin that discussion. Participating in the April 3rd meeting at Andrus on Hudson were grantees of the Helen Andrus Benedict Foundation, as well as our colleagues in City and County government, nonprofit organizations and institutions. Older adults were well represented by members of the 55 Plus advisory board, graduates of the Yonkers Leadership Program, GrandPower advocates, and others who volunteer, live, work, and play in Yonkers.
Some of the Foundation’s vision for older adults is already in place; other aspects are hopes for the future which the Foundation may or may not be able to fund. The Foundation recognizes success is dependent upon many people and organizations working together. Our vision is informed by the references cited, and we encourage you to delve into these important resources.
Those who attended the April 3rd meeting added their thinking to the vision, and 55 Plus is now distributing the vision to older residents across Yonkers, inviting their comments and additions. We will modify the vision to reflect those additions, and we expect that the vision will be greatly enriched as the years pass. Also, we expect that many of its goals will be achieved within the next few years.
While this paper focuses on the City of Yonkers, we include in our programming residents of the Village of Hastings-on-Hudson, since Andrus on Hudson, where the Foundation and its grantees often meet, is just beyond Yonkers’ border with the Village of Hastings.
Rationale for Vision Statement
Older people are enormous assets, and they are a growing force. Nearly 47,000 Yonkers residents are 55 or older, 24 percent of the City’s population of just under 200,000. Though older people may be managing multiple chronic illnesses, the vast majority (90%+) are active and living in the community. Older people contribute to their family’s financial stability, care for their grandchildren, volunteer and serve as civic leaders. They provide stability in neighborhoods and boost the economy through their spending. Older adults have time, talent and experience to be tapped for the benefit of neighbors and neighborhoods, and that involvement also benefits them. Communities are discovering the critical difference older volunteers can make with infants and children, in schools, with young families, with frail older people, and as civic leaders.
The Foundation strives to apply evidence-based knowledge to all its efforts in Yonkers. The book Successful Aging(1) by Drs. John Rowe and Robert Kahn reports the results of a decade of multi-disciplinary research. The bottom line is that “people whose connections with others are relatively strong—through family, marriage, friendships, and other organizational memberships—live longer. And for people whose relationships to others are fewer and weaker, the risk of death is two to four times as great, irrespective of age and other factors such as race, socioeconomic status, physical health, smoking, use of alcohol, physical activity, obesity, and use of health services.” In his book Save Your Brain: A Lifestyle Guide to Brain Health Across Your Lifespan(2), Dr. Paul Nussbaum, a noted clinical neuropsychologist, reports that human brains must be cared for through the entire lifespan, and that exercise, social connections, and activities that challenge and nurture the brain, help keep it healthy and robust into old age. In The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life,(3) Dr. Gene D. Cohen reports research that shows “older adults actively engaged in creative activities have significantly better overall mental and physical health, fewer falls and doctor’s visits, less use of medications, fewer vision problems, less loneliness and depression, and increased levels of involvement in other activities.” A survey of Experience Corps older volunteers revealed that compared to other older people, they had better health, felt stronger, and had bigger social networks. In Recasting Retirement, Civic Ventures reports that focus groups of people ages 55 to 75 revealed that most want volunteer roles that offer “purposeful camaraderie.” In addition, MetLife/Civic Ventures survey findings report that a significant number of adults plan to work past the traditional retirement age and that many would like to work in fields that contribute to the good of their communities.
Yonkers is a community for all ages—a great place to grow old.
Yonkers is the (un)retirement capital of the world.
The Helen Andrus Benedict Foundation envisions the City of Yonkers as a great place to grow old; Yonkers is the (un)retirement capital of the world–a city to which older people want to re-locate. A future Yonkers might look like this:
Older people are aware of all the ways they can participate in Yonkers
In Yonkers nearly every older adult is aware of the wide array of appealing programs that are available. These include seminars to help assess interests and goals and plan for transitions throughout mid and later life, educational courses for enrichment or preparing for new directions, meaningful volunteer and paid work, and discussion groups and other opportunities to connect with peers and Yonkers’ residents of all ages.(4)Numerous organizations and institutions offer excellent programming by and for older adults, and each group alerts older people to its own offerings as well as other groups’ programming. News of activities and events is posted on a website for those who use the internet (a growing number), and can be easily accessed through a staffed “one-stop phone number.” A single-branded publication for those who need hard copy access is inserted in the Journal News, distributed in grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and libraries. Newspapers, newsletters, TV and radio often have stories related to opportunities for older people. Yonkers’ older residents are spreading the word to their friends that living in Yonkers makes them feel alive, engaged, supported, and connected with the life of the community.
Older adults are the life-blood of Yonkers. Their experience is sought out and valued.
While some cities think of older people as frail, poor, needy and sick, Yonkers’ older adults are seen as a resource(5) to family, neighborhoods, organizations, schools and businesses.In Yonkers the wisdom, abilities and experience of older residents are sought out and valued.
Recognizing the reliability, knowledge and skills of older adults, Yonkers and Westchester employers are actively seeking older workers, and welcoming them back into the workplace. Those already on the job are encouraged to continue. Older employees at the City employment center coach older people on interview skills, resume writing, and filing job applications on-line. Businesses have re-designed jobs to attract older workers to full-time work as well as job-shares, temporary and part-time employment. Retired executives and business owners are key planners and participants in Yonkers Business Week activities.
An aggressive campaign launched several years ago continuously recruits waves of older volunteers for the arts, the environment, health and human services, libraries and education, children and youth. Organizations are clamoring for older volunteers, and all agencies know how to create meaningful volunteer roles for older people. The website and “one-stop phone number” make it easy for Yonkers’ residents to connect to this rich array of opportunities.
With the full participation of pharmacies citywide, trained older volunteers reach more than 90 percent of Yonkers’ Medicare- and Medicaid-eligible enrollees, helping them understand and participate in Medicare benefits such as the prescription drug benefit.
Older residents serve as members of advisory boards of BIDS (business improvement districts), downtown and waterfront development, parks and economic development. They contribute their valuable experience and knowledge of the City, assuring that people of all ages benefit from Yonkers’ exciting new development plans. Following the City’s special emphasis on creating user-friendly, warm and welcoming public spaces, the use of Yonkers’ new public spaces and parks by young, old, and families, has dramatically increased.
Yonkers’ older residents are neighborhood “movers and shakers”
Yonkers is a community for all ages.(6) Neighborhoods are welcoming, and people of all generations feel connected and supported. Older adult leadership courses offered at the libraries have trained hundreds of older people. Each leadership graduate has committed to work in one of the 36 neighborhoods, either individually or in a group of ten on a myriad of ideas and projects to benefit their chosen neighborhoods.
They use Yonkers’ block-by-block asset map(5) to link local schools and childcare centers with senior centers, faith communities, neighborhood associations, and businesses. Leadership graduates are transforming the City, neighborhood by neighborhood, into a good place to grow old–in fact, a good place for people of all ages.
All of the senior centers in Yonkers have evolved into elder-powered, “purposeful camaraderie action centers.” Neighborhood older adults use these spaces to socialize with friends while planning and coordinating out-of-school time, weekend, and summer programs for children and teens, and neighborhood events for people of all ages. Grandparent advocates have infiltrated the purposeful camaraderie centers, recruiting hundreds of grandparents and making a powerful voice in City Hall and Albany, advocating for improved public policies and practices affecting grandparent caregivers and their grandchildren.Local schools of social work and nursing are infusing aging into their curriculum and offering tuition scholarships for students who choose aging as an area of specialization. On-the-job experience is a requirement of their education, and students are based at the purposeful camaraderie action centers, working with older adult teams to address neighborhood opportunities and challenges.
In every Yonkers’ neighborhood, schools are filled with older adults tutoring and teaching young people. Certified older adults volunteer and work for pay in Yonkers’ childcare centers and out-of-school-time programs. Homebound elders provide after-school telephone reassurance for children. Older adults, including frail and homebound elders, make hundreds of toys, mittens, scarves, and quilts for childcare centers, after school programs, and shelters. As part of school curriculum, children and youth interview elders, write and videotape oral histories, learning about older neighbors’ experiences, local history, and culture. Teens teach older people how to use computers. Intergenerational teams adapt the homes of frail elders to enhance safety and mobility.
The City is determined to make Yonkers’ neighborhoods great places to live. Yonkers offers residents free courses on how to start a neighborhood association, makes small grants to encourage strong neighborhood associations, routinely attends neighborhood meetings to listen to residents’ ideas and concerns, and partners with associations to make improvements and celebrate successes. In neighborhoods across the City, old and young walk the streets together, documenting street-level assets and problems and finding ways to better use the assets, as well as reporting and monitoring repair of problems like empty tree pits, broken sidewalks, trash pile-ups, and potholes. “Green Teams” identify vacant lots, help neighbors envision new spaces, and turn them into enjoyable recreation corners for people of all ages.
Yonkers’ residents stay connected. They can grow old at home in the community.
The website and staffed “one-stop phone number” provide information and referral about activities and services of interest to older people or their families. Well-trained older adults help staff the telephone, connecting callers with multi-faceted and integrated services, from emotional support and encouragement, to assistance with routine chores, home repairs or modifications, to in-home health services. When an older person calls the staffed “one-stop phone number,” older adults’ autonomy and choice are the first priority. Teams of older adults make regular, friendly telephone calls and visits to homebound and frail elders, and deliver groceries, meals, library books, videos, art and craft supplies to them.
Yonkers’ “gatekeepers” are responsive to older residents. Pharmacies and grocery stores offer telephone ordering and free or low-cost delivery service. The printed materials of organizations and institutions are easily readable by even those with diminished vision. Many public meetings are held during daylight hours, so older people can easily participate.
A community-wide team of wise and thoughtful retirees is working with a graduate student to develop recommendations for a range of assisted living options that would be appropriate for Yonkers. In the future, this respected elder “think tank” will develop strategies and solutions for other community issues, always seeking to maximize the assets available.
A wide array of year-round transportation options, including carpools, and comfortable-to-enter vans and buses, makes it easy for older adults to reach paid and volunteer jobs, public meetings, shopping, appointments, visits with friends and family, and social events.
Yonkers’ residents feel prepared and financially secure. Many in their 20s, 30s, and 40s have taken financial and life-planning courses frequently offered at the City’s libraries and places of business. Low-income older adults find affordable housing. For those who own their own homes, taxes are abated to reasonable levels. Information about options for tapping the equity in their homes and for meaningful part-time jobs to supplement income is readily available.
Thousands of older people create, learn, and re-tool for new experiences
Libraries, colleges and universities have added nearly one hundred new courses that attract droves of older learners. Courses offer transition assessment, coaching and life-planning programs year-round to help older adults take full advantage of the numerous transitions in their years between 55 and 95. Offerings include courses for enrichment as well as classes to re-tool for a new career or volunteer role or to start a small business. Retirees are teaching many courses, including popular ones about how to use the computer, the internet, Google and E-bay. Businesses and foundations co-sponsor ongoing public lectures by nationally-known thinkers and do-ers. Each lecture attracts hundreds of people from Yonkers, Hastings-on-Hudson, and surrounding communities.
Arts and culture in Yonkers are thriving. Growing numbers of older adults sign up for performing and visual arts courses to learn how to sing and play instruments, write stories and plays, perform on stage with local theatre groups, or create art and sculpture. Exhibitions and performances of works by older artists flourish in museums, libraries, and public spaces.
Yonkers launched a new first-of-its kind “brain gym” for City residents. Everyone in Yonkers has tried the “brain gym” at least once; it’s interactive, fun and easy to use. The “brain gym” is available on-line in schools, libraries, places of business, civic and social centers. Easy questions help older adults, their children and grandchildren assess their own brain health and determine the activities needed to maximize their brain health over the lifespan. Brain health lectures are offered throughout the year, and older adult counselors and coaches lead group discussions and offer one-to-one assistance.
Older adults are learning new ways to exercise and keep fit. Intergenerational walking groups meet every day in different locations across the City, at the new indoor mall, in school corridors, and on field tracks. In Yonkers’ parks, older adults teach yoga and Tai chi to people of all ages. The City’s new intergenerational community gardens are a big attraction. Connections with upstate farmers and regular farmers markets offer fresh healthful foods to residents as well as increased visibility of the importance of good nutrition.
Yonkers is a model for the region and the nation.
Yonkers is a “go-to” City, providing leadership to communities beyond its borders, in Westchester County, New York State, and nationwide. City and County departments and Yonkers’ nonprofits incorporate a strengths-based, lifespan perspective, and older adults participate in government, and nonprofit planning and action. Business is flourishing with all of the new employers attracted by economic development initiatives. Planned with the assistance of retired executives and professionals, Yonkers Business Week, with its high-visibility speakers and seminars, is an inspiration for other communities. In addition, new funders interested in communities for all ages step forward. Westchester County, United Way and the Westchester Community Foundation form a consortium along with five local foundations. Together they commit $1.0 million a year to neighborhood-focused intergenerational programs where people of all ages work together to address common goals. Conferences nationwide include speakers from Yonkers’ public, private and nonprofit sectors, who are routinely asked to describe Yonkers’ achievements as a community for all ages, a great place to grow old, and a great place to grow up.
Successful Aging, Pantheon Books, New York, 1998.
See website: www.paulnussbaum.com
Ten Tips for Maintaining Brain Health
Save Your Brain
The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, Avon Books, New York, 2005.
See website: www.civicventures.org
Life Planning Toolkit
Blueprint for The Next Chapter
The New Face of Work
Experience Corps research on the impact of Experience Corps on participants can be found at: ‘www.experiencecorps.org/research/JHU_summary.html‘
Recasting Retirement booklet is available at:
Asset Based Community Development Institute, Northwestern University
See website: http://www.northwestern.edu/ipr/abcd.html
A Guide to Mapping Local Business Assets and Mobilizing Local Business Capacities
A Guide to Mapping and Mobilizing the Economic Capacities of Local Residents
A Guide to Mapping and Mobilizing the Associations in Local Neighborhoods
Asset-Based Strategies for Faith Communities
A Guide to Capacity Inventories: Mobilizing the Community Skills of Local Residents
Leading by Stepping Back: A Guide for City Officials on Building Neighborhood Capacity
The Intergenerational Learning Center at Temple University
See website http://templecil.org/
Connecting Generations, Strengthening Communities – A Toolkit for Intergenerational Program Planners