OBERLIN — Getting to the end of my spring term at Lorain County Community College, I am nearly done with my internship with the Oberlin Recreation Department. It has been a learning experience for me and I hope to leave something of value to the city as its considers if, where, when and how to extend services to seniors in Oberlin. That was my assignment: research the topic.
Starting with an online survey of residents age 55 and older, the 10-question survey was posted to my personal Facebook page, the Facebook page for the group “You know you’re from Oberlin if,” my Twitter page, LinkedIn, and Nextdoor, which I had forgotten about as a website. The Oberlin Recreation Dept. twitter account engaged the posts.
The results of the survey are here and show that some seniors do quite well for themselves.
The encouraging news is that there is an active senior population online in Oberlin, largely on Facebook and Nextdoor. Often, hashtags are useful in tying online communities together. I can say from past professional experience that online community building is exhausting — not just because I was monitoring newspaper reader comments at 2 a.m. — but continuity is immensely important in teaching people where to go for information. And, to the point made by one of the people I interviewed recently, if we reach ANYONE, say, in a family with a senior citizen, information will get back to them second hand.
The bad news is that posting the survey the way I did necessarily creates a selection bias for those people who are already more connected and enabled by technology.
I interviewed 11 people, most from the community, posting many of those as podcasts and a few others as written interviews. Time and again in these interviews, the idea of finding, creating or supporting community came to the front.
One regret I have is that I could not find a demographer to interview about the way an aging local population might change or impact the community. I even found a demographer, Dr. Deirdre Mageean, at Cleveland State University to talk me through the process of studying aging in a community. That would be an important step in making future plans I believe, part of a more formalized study as advocated by Dona Wishart, the executive director of the Otsego County Commission on Aging, also chairs the Michigan Commission on Services to the Aging.
Senior services have also been mentioned now by the Recreation Planning Commission in draft work toward the city’s ongoing comprehensive planning for the future. In being transparent on the matter, I also sit on that commission.
It’s hard to quantify the intangibles, the conversations I had with older customers at the Oberlin IGA where I work. One thing is clear: before, during, or after a pandemic, a grocery store serves as a social outlet for everyone, not the least of whom are senior citizens. It’s the type of place that proves the point that an activity that serves seniors may well serve many others also.
“I have to admit that I don’t do anything for the senior population in general. I myself, at age 67, am a senior, though that’s not how I think of myself. I do try to help my 92-year-old mom as much as possible. She moved into my sister’s house last summer, and I live next to them and visit a lot. She has spent some nights here, but it has recently become too disorienting for her to stray from her routine. I give her rides (e.g., for her COVID vaccines and to Columbus to visit my other sister), include her in conversations (sometimes she feels the “invisibility” of age and, I confess, sometimes I’m guilty of contributing to this), am patient when she asks the same question or tells me the same news several times within a few minutes,” one woman wrote to me on Nextdoor.
I remember seeing her mother around IGA.
“You may still see Mom sometimes at IGA; she sometimes goes shopping … and has even been known to sneak out to drop off a bill or go to a medical appointment by herself, though I think unaccompanied gallivanting is coming to an end,” she offered.
Then there are those of us, almost 50, who see these needs and activities on our own horizon.
“Walking outside. Safe non-slip surface, no dips or craters or pot holes, no cracks with elevated areas (so basically the bike path) but a place to park and walk…is there a place to park and walk? Or just walk for miles and turn around and walk for miles back? I miss Oberlin and it’s a shame I don’t remember if there is a place to park,” said a classmate of mine, Leah Young, when I asked people about things they do now they would want to carry with them into their senior years.
Oh, and one more thing. This has gotten me to think about my own aging in new ways. Reality or denial, I’m choosing to think about this moment as “starting my second adulthood.”