Monday, February 27, 2017

Intergenerational Connections as the New Norm.

"We want every youth-serving organization in cities across the country to actively seek out older workers and volunteers, and to stand with us as we create a new societal norm for intergenerational collaboration." - Sarah McKinney, Communications Director, Generation to Generation

Photos: Ed Kashi (top left, bottom right); Woodwalk (top right, bottom left).

Entering my 50s, I have been thinking more about what I can do to help future generations. I'm noticing that this desire for generativity is common among friends who are also in mid-life, as we now have life experiences and useful skills to share with young people. Needless to say, I am thrilled to feature an interview with Sarah McKinney, Communications Director for Encore.org's Generation to Generation, a campaign that fosters intergenerational connections with the aim of helping the Youth. Sarah explains the campaign in greater detail, and now I'm feeling fired up! I'm sure you will be too!

What is the Generation to Generation campaign?
Generation to Generation (Gen2Gen) is Encore.org’s 5-year campaign to mobilize the over-50 population to fight inequality in the next generation, by “standing up and showing up” for young people -- particularly those growing up against the odds. Through our large and growing network of wonderful partner organizations and communities, Gen2Gen will shine a light on the transformative intergenerational work currently being done, share best practices to encourage increased participation, and pursue thought-leadership and media activities that work to normalize youth-focused service in later life. 

How did this idea come about?
In many ways, Gen2Gen is a return to Encore.org’s roots. Back in 1995 Marc Freedman, Encore.org’s founder and CEO, worked with others to launch what is now AARP Experience Corps -- a program designed to engage people over 50 as tutors and mentors in some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods and lowest-performing elementary schools. Freedman still often refers to Encore.org as a mentoring organization in the guise of an aging organization! 

Over the past two decades we’ve launched several other innovative programs, such as Encore Fellowships and The Purpose Prize, engaged in a lot of storytelling and research, and hosted several convenings to bring “encore career” enthusiasts together. Gen2Gen is an attempt to channel this community of wise adults to one specific social issue -- vulnerable children and youth -- and, in the process, demonstrate the unique power this (growing) segment of the population holds to solve other significant social problems. 

"...people are genuinely excited about this idea, of matching this growing population of older adults to children and youth who need extra support, and see it as a no-brainer." - Sarah


What are the main goals that you hope to accomplish with this campaign?
There are so many people in mid-life and beyond who are already doing the work we’re advocating, whether it be helping to raise their grandkids, nieces or nephews, volunteering at their local community center or church, or raising their hand to get involved at a youth-serving nonprofit whose mission speaks to them. We want to connect with these individuals and let them know they’re part of something big, powerful, and important. We want to reach a huge number of new people, inspire them to connect with kids (age 0-24) who need support, and have them identify with the Gen2Gen campaign. We want every youth-serving organization in cities across the country to actively seek out older workers and volunteers, and to stand with us as we create a new societal norm for intergenerational collaboration. While the media continues to focus on how divided our country is, we want Gen2Gen to be a bridge that connects people across age, race, background and social class for the benefit of all. 

What excites you the most about the Gen2Gen campaign?
I was originally drawn to Encore.org because I related to the idea of making a career change, and using your collective experience for good. After spending over a decade in market research, I went back to graduate school and received my MBA from a program called Presidio Graduate School -- which is about how business can become a force for good. I was exposed to the movement of young people seeking purpose-driven careers, and simultaneously became aware of Encore.org and the “encore career” movement. Finding ways to connect these generations is what my initial role at Encore.org was focused on. Outside of work, the social issue I’m most passionate about is addiction and recovery. So personal transformation -- and helping people reach their potential -- is the common current running through my life, and the thing that motivates me to do what I do.

The opportunity to work on the Gen2Gen team came about right as I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. It’s incredible how becoming a parent shifts your perspective! I feel very personally invested in creating a better future for future generations, and doing what I can to give every child the chance to thrive. I’ve also been on both the giving and receiving end of mentorship, which is a big part of the Gen2Gen campaign, and have always loved spending time with people who are much younger and older than me. So working on this campaign and helping it reach more people is a “fit” on many levels.


Photo: Ed Kashi
Are there any unique challenges to making this happen?
This is a big goal! We know many people are feeling particularly inspired to take action right now. Our partner VolunteerMatch recently reported record-breaking traffic, with over 500k people seeking volunteer opportunities within a single week! But making clear the urgency of intergenerational work when there are so many other social issues that feel urgent right now -- that can be a challenge. It’s not a particularly unique challenge, however, as every organization is competing for people’s attention. And whenever we do describe what we’re up to with Gen2Gen we don’t experience resistance -- people are genuinely excited about this idea, of matching this growing population of older adults to children and youth who need extra support, and see it as a no-brainer.

Do you have an interesting Gen2Gen success story? 
We launched in November and it tends to take a little time to go through the screening process at youth-serving organizations (all are required to do background checks) and then develop a meaningful relationship with a child, but we currently have some great stories of older adults doing youth-focused work in our story bank and would LOVE to hear more, if any of your readers want to share theirs

One cool thing to report is that during the month of January we focused on encouraging people to explore opportunities through MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, and it resulted in our being their third highest source of referral traffic, just behind LinkedIn and Serve.gov. We’re excited to offer this value to other partners in the months and years ahead. 

What are some small action steps each person, such as myself, can take to contribute to this movement?
First off, you can make sure you’ve joined the campaign! Just visit our homepage and enter your email into the pop-up box. If you don’t see that, click the “Count me in” button for it to appear. Next up, join us on social media. We recently created a Gen2Gen Facebook group where we want to cultivate a strong sense of community -- request to join and once you’re approved, introduce yourself to the group, explaining what interests you about bringing generations together! Encore.org has an active Facebook page and Twitter handle, where we’re often posting about the campaign. Or if you’re more of a LinkedIn person, Encore.org has a LinkedIn group where you can post and read stories of interest. Last but not least, explore volunteer and DIY ideas

Is there anything else you would like to add?
We’re currently in the process of developing a strategy to engage “champions” -- those who want to recruit others to join the campaign and spread the message within their communities. If you’re reading this and that’s of interest to you, we’d love to hear from you. Please email getinvolved@generationtogeneration.org and use the subject line “Koko’s Blog” so we know what the message is in reference to. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Advice to my 20-Year-Old Self.

“When the cake is passed, take a piece.” - Mary, age 84 

Our 20 Year Old Selves. Top: Linda, Jim, Mary (with her mom).
Bottom: Aanchal, Phu, Lisa, and Koko.
























Since turning 50 last summer, I've been thinking about life lessons I've learned from my twenties through the present. What have I really learned? As if on cue, a recent article touched up on what older women wish they could tell their younger selves. The question posted on a Reddit forum asked, "So if you could give your 20-year-old-self some advice, what would you say?" Rachel Hoise, the author, expressed some disappointment when it was revealed that the most common advice centered on either losing weight or not gaining weight. While I know concerns with weight are not unusual, I too was surprised by this popular advice. Therefore, I became curious about what advice friends might give to their 20-year-old selves, and below are their answers (I've also included my answer):

Aanchal, 35
No matter how busy life gets, take the time to engage in an act of service every once in awhile. Touch another person's soul with your kindness. It'll make you happier, too!

Phu, 43
Listen to your heart and pursue hobbies you're interested in. Make great friends and don't lose touch (Think quality, not quantity). Find a good mentor. Buy your house early as an investment. Explore the world. Take any opportunity to make your life better. Overcome your fears. Always believe that all your goals and dreams are possible.

Koko, 50
Find your voice and learn to listen to it as you navigate yourself through life. Be true to who you are and don't delegate another to be the expert of YOUR life, because only you can know what would make you happy and fulfilled.

Linda, 52
The advice I would give to my 20 year old self would be to remember that your credit scores are important and any negative impact on them could affect important things like securing a loan, renting an apartment, buying a car or a house.

Lisa, 52

If I could give my somewhat clueless 20-year old self some advice, it would be to not get so caught up in the expectations that I had for myself and live life with an open heart. 

Todd, 53
Follow the guidance of a mentor you respect. Keep your body and mind healthy. Respect and abide by the law.Treat people how you want to be treated. Respect yourself and others. Always ask if you can help other people. Do things the best you can.

Jim, 64
The advice I would offer my younger self is Mary Oliver's counsel in her classic poem "The Journey" which ends: 

...But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The reason this poem resonates so deeply is that I had a difficult relationship with my parents. I felt caught between wanting to please them and trying to be true to myself. I didn't even know who I was, or how to find out. I knew I was different -- from them in many ways, and from others -- especially after I acknowledged my identity as a gay man. I was looking for love ("in all the wrong places" as the song goes) not realizing that what I was seeking wasn't to be found in the world, but within. Now, at age 64, after years of challenging and rewarding therapy, I am much happier and healthier than I was in my twenties. I wish I could communicate with my younger self and explain that (I hate that campaign) "it gets better" by taking responsibility for the one thing you can change, your own life.

Sheila, 78
If you have saved enough money from your summer jobs, plus selling blouses at Bloomingdales' during the holidays, think about putting off college for a year, and instead, take a 'Gap Year', and travel abroad. Try to find a group of like-minded people to travel with part of the time.

Be mindful of your health:  cut out the sugar completely (may take some time), and exercise every day -- ok, 6 days a week -- doing something you like: eg, biking, gym, dancing,skiing, etc. Get fresh air every day (a walk is refreshing). Be kind and respectful to others (including your parents), and to yourself. Laugh a lot.

Mary, 84
When I was a sophomore  in college, my aunt and uncle were going for a one week’s vacation in Jamaica and invited me to go with them. I was very tempted but it would mean missing school: classes scheduled, papers due, tests given. 

I told my mother of my dilemma. She looked at me and said:
“When the cake is passed, take a piece.”
‘Nuff said.

As you can see, there is wide variety in the types of advice friends have shared. In reality, our 20-year-old selves may not listen to the advice of our older selves. Nevertheless, self-reflecting on our advice can be helpful in revealing how much we've grown! Turning the same question to you, dear readers, what advice would you give your 20-year-old selves?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Growing Older With An Eating Disorder.

“I will not eat cakes or cookies or food. I will be thin, thin, pure. I will be pure and empty. Weight dropping off. Ninety-nine... ninety-five... ninety-two... ninety. Just one more to eighty-nine. Where does it go? Where in the universe does it go?”  -- Francesca Lia Block


Left: In Rome. Right: At a Buddhist Wedding.
These pictures of me in my 20s make me feel wistful, but not because I long for my youth. In truth, my sadness comes from remembering my lack of appreciation for myself as a young woman. From the age of fourteen, I struggled with eating disorders that would often manifest during periods of distress. Regrettably, much of my youthful energy was spent exercising and dieting. I was fixated on trying to attain an idealized weight because I thought I could be happy once I was ‘perfect.’  If I could go back in time, I would give my younger self a big hug and unconditional love. I certainly needed it.

Although it’s a difficult topic to discuss, I felt compelled to share my experience after reading a recent article titled, How Eating Disorders Impact Older Women: ‘The Changing Body is a Trigger. Often associated with young women, incidents of eating disorders in midlife women have been increasing steadily in recent years. Weight gain and body changes, along with other stressful events such as divorce, death of parents, and financial strains are common eating disorder catalysts. Additionally, the societal emphasis on thinness and youth may evoke feelings of invisibility and contribute to women's fears about aging.  

Some women experience eating disorders in adolescence or young adulthood and may have recurring episodes throughout their lives. Other women may have their first onset in midlife or even later. How eating disorders develop is not entirely clear. Aimee Liu, author of Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders, suggests, “Eating disorders are like a gun that’s formed by genetics, loaded by a culture and family ideals, and triggered by unbearable distress.” In looking at my own family environment, I was raised to be a perfectionist, and being ‘good enough’ was not an option. Moreover, I was expected to be cheerful and self-sufficient, even when I felt as if I were falling apart. As a consequence, controlling my weight via starvation diets and vigorous exercise became my way to cope with stress and anxiety. Sadly, these dysfunctional behaviors have been fairly constant throughout my life.

Aside from weight and body shape concerns, eating disorders pose serious health risks. According to AARP, starving, binging and purging have detrimental effects on health and may lead to heart problems, gastrointestinal problems, damaged teeth, and osteoporosis. Older women with eating disorders suffer the greatest harm, as bodies become less resilient with age. Just as alarming as the physical damage is the fact that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality risk among all mental health issues. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, people with anorexia have a 10 percent mortality rate at 10 years with the disease, and 20 percent mortality at 20 years. 

At 50, I am experiencing bodily changes and finding I no longer fit into much of my wardrobe. Still, I have learned to be much kinder and accepting of myself. Recognizing that eating disorders can be reignited at any time, daily self-care is a priority. For many years, my eating disorder was a dark secret. I rarely, if ever, acknowledged that I even had it. Now I wonder if any women I know might be struggling with similar challenges? For readers who are in midlife and/or going through menopause, how do you feel about changes to your weight and body shape? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences. Thank you for reading my post.




Monday, November 7, 2016

Bringing Gezellig to Lives of Older Adults

Towards the end of his life, my father was left debilitated by stroke and vascular dementia. To keep his spirits high, I would find activities we could enjoy together, such as listening to music, singing and reminiscing. In looking back, those moments were magical and made us feel happy. 
-- Koko Kawasaki

Very recently, I learned about Gezellig Magazine, a digital publication filled with an array of creative activities for older adults and care partners to enjoy together. The brainchild of Debora Tingley and Patricia Ris, organizers of the Memory Care Café in the San Francisco Bay Area, Gezellig Magazine is visually beautiful and warmly inviting. Browsing through the pages, I was captivated by the contents. Needless to say, I'm delighted to share an interview with Debora and Patricia who discuss their magazine and their inspired ideas.


Patricia Ris and Debora Tingley
What inspired you to create Gezellig Magazine?
We wanted to create an extension of Memory Care Café, as thousands of people in San Francisco are living with memory loss but we could only reach a small, mobile segment of that group. Both of us have wanted to create a magazine as a resource for aging people, so it felt like a natural thing for us to do together. There are very few (if any) similar products available at this time.

What does Gezellig mean?
Gezellig is a very common Dutch word. It evokes a sense of good circumstances and feelings, a kind of coziness, friendliness and homeyness. Gezellig often means being with others, in good company. The atmosphere of a place can be gezellig, and a home can be gezellig. Gezellig Magazine aspires to bring this idea and feeling into day-to-day life. 

Where do you get the ideas for your wonderful activities?
This is one of our favorite things to do! Before we started the magazine, we found it very easy to come up with a year’s worth of topics and were able to outline our six issues in a matter of weeks! That flow likely has to do with our complementary strengths and our aligned passion for supporting care partners.

In terms of topic choice, we’re not so interested in traditional fare, but look for new activities that we’d like to do ourselves, or share with our parents and friends. Seasonal topics are important to bring the outside world in, and to help with awareness of the world around us. Of equal importance are new trends, contemporary approaches and hip topics. Our recent articles include creating personalized emojis and Be Your Own Radio Show Host, about making personal playlists, and these two examples reflect typical interests of our readers.
Nov/Dec 2016 Issue

Are there challenges in creating activities for elders and care partners to share together? If so, could you give some examples?
To appeal to our diverse audience, we created seven categories of activities to highlight different areas of interest. Within these categories, which are listed below, we offer as much variety as possible so that the activities may appeal to people from all walks of life. 

  • GO: getting out and moving with a purpose
  • WORDS: inspiring thoughts and actions with words
  • BY HAND: easy, inventive crafts that inspire the heart and mind
  • OUTSIDE: connecting with nature and life around us
  • SENSES: treats for the senses
  • DIGITAL: fun and simple ways to engage through the Internet
  • FOOD: tasty, easy recipes to make together, chosen with current health trends in mind
Each magazine article incorporates various levels of participation. The Day of the Dead Calaveras (Skulls) making in our November/December issue, for example, offers both easy and more complex versions of the recipe. In addition, conversational material is included, in case the “doing” is not possible. In our free issue, we have an article titled Car List Poetry, about creating a poem. This activity can be enjoyed in a question and answer style, but it also lends itself very well to individuals composing their own poetry. 
Mary Beth, a reader from San Francisco, commented: "I loved the line poem about your Deux Chevaux. Lots of memories of hitch-hiking around France in those cars. Glad you put the front-door handle in the right place for the vintage I remember."

The main idea is to help people find what’s appropriate for them and not put them in a box about what they can or cannot do. People experience good days and bad days, and cognitive challenges (especially) vary greatly in one individual from day-to-day. That’s why we create our activities with the highest possible level of participation in mind, along with adaptations for specific needs woven in. The challenge is figuring out how to present options for different levels of ability in a way that is clear without discouraging people from trying something outside their perceived abilities and/or comfort zones.

What are some initial responses to the magazine? 
Here are a handful of testimonials straight from the readers:
"What a wonderful magazine Gezellig is! It looks beautiful, it is very user friendly, full of inspiring articles, ideas, outings and games and I wish we had a similar magazine in the Netherlands. A must read (and must subscribe!) for anyone who is a caregiver or family member or a senior who wants to stay active and enjoy life!"  Nanette R., Amsterdam
"This magazine takes minutes to read but gives you hours of ideas for great conversation, outings and activities…The content is well thought through and presented with purpose. I would recommend it to Elders and care partners alike." – Sean M., Sebastopol, CA
"Gezellig allowed me to engage with my parents through a very entertaining, portable and interesting platform. I felt like we were really doing something together—and not just sitting around the TV! Thank you Gezellig for your creative product!" – June K., Santa Rosa, CA
How can people contribute ideas they may have? 
We welcome contributions from readers and also from professionals. For example, healthy cooking expert Rebecca Katz generously contributed one of her favorite soup recipes, Moroccan Carrot Soup from her most recent Clean Soups cookbook. An article on making this soup is included in our current November/December issue. (Note: A link for the recipe is included at the end).

For readers, we have an invitation at the end of almost every article to share thoughts, send pictures of what they’ve created, or to send us their ideas through our gezellig community webpage. In January 2017, we will have a forum where care partners can share lifestyle ideas with each other--another opportunity for readers to take the helm and create a real, gezellig community to thrive in!

A heartfelt thank you to Patricia and Debora for their commitment to the wellbeing of older adults and for the passion, creativity and joy they bring to Gezellig Magazine. Dear blog readers, it's the perfect time of year to create a gezellig atmosphere with loved ones, so be sure to visit gezelligmagazine.com. Here are two fantastic recipes from the current issue for you to try:
Moroccan Carrot Soup: http://bit.ly/2fHfj1O
Day of the Dead Calaveras: http://bit.ly/2fnY4ihb 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Death Café in San Francisco

"An awareness and understanding of death raises our state of life. When we are cognizant of the reality and inevitability of death, we begin to seek the eternal and become determined to make the most valuable use of each moment of life." -- Daisaku Ikeda



This year, I've had the unique opportunity to attend the Death Café. Not knowing what to expect, I listened to peoples' views and experiences about death and shared some of my thoughts in a small, informal setting. To my pleasant surprise, the discussions were lively and engaging. As a result, I felt inspired to dedicate a blog post on the Death Café. I contacted Jim Van Buskirk, who co-hosts San Francisco's Death Café each month with Danielle Brandon and Harvey Schwartz. Jim has kindly answered my varied questions about the Death Café and about his interest in death-related matters. 

What is the Death Café?
It is a group of people interested in sharing stories and experiences about a variety of topics related to death and dying. Various conversations have focused on aging parents, one's own mortality, dealing with clutter, wills and advanced care directives, communication with and visitations from the "other side"... People share wonderful stories and there is often, paradoxically, lots of laughter. Our experience shows that people are starving for a safe place to share their beliefs and fears.
Image courtesy of deathcafe.com

How did you become involved with the Death Café?
My friend Harvey, knowing my interest in death, asked me if I had heard about Death Café (DC). We were both surprised that I had not. We attended one together at Chapel of the Chimes where we met Danielle. The three of us San Franciscans decided we would co-host a DC. We looked at the guidelines at deathcafe.com and I knew that the San Francisco Public Library's (SFPL) community meeting room policy would accommodate our use of the Potrero Branch library's room. We divided up the few tasks: I was the contact with SFPL for room reservations, Danielle posted the event on deathcafe.com, and Harvey was the conduit for RSVPs. Our first meeting was a success and we have continued for over a year, with one held at the AIDS Memorial Grove and another at the Fernwood Cemetery in Marin.

Why do you think this subject interests you?
Initially I was interested in subverting the taboo against talking about the inevitable. Over a year later, my interest has deepened into a spiritual calling. I continue to read books, watch documentaries, attend presentations, and talk to people about death and dying. I am continually developing my annotated bibliography on the topic. For example, I am working with the SFPL on an ongoing series entitled, "We're All Terminal: Living with Death & Dying," in which various aspects of a range of topics are addressed by speakers, films, book discussions and/or presentation formats in an effort to offer attendees appropriate resources within their comfort zones.

Jim Van Buskirk
How has your view of death changed as a result of facilitating and taking part in these discussions?
I understand that people move through the world differently and have a wide variety of belief systems and areas of fear/confidence. Although no one knows what happens at the moment of death or thereafter, some are fearful of eternal nothingness, while others eagerly anticipate the next big adventure. The more I learn about the topic, the more fascinated I am, and the more I want to share my discoveries. Some people are eager for the opportunity to discuss the taboo topic, others remain uncomfortable.

Why do you think American society avoids talking about the subject of death? 
I have lots of theories, some related to Ernest Becker's pioneering book "Denial of Death" and the Terror Management Theory, developed by psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, and Sheldon Solomon, based on Becker's ideas. I also believe there is pervasive magical thinking, that if one doesn't talk about death, write a will, make arrangements, one will somehow avoid the inevitable. We as a society have outsourced so many markers of death. One used to die at home, the body washed and prepared by the same women who birthed babies, and be buried in regularly-visited church graveyards. Now people die in nursing homes and hospitals, mortuaries whisk away the body, and people are urged to "get over" their grieving process. All of this is unhealthy individually and societally. By being removed from the fact that we will all eventually die, we are removed from our humanity.

Any interesting anecdotes from the discussions?
Many, but one participant in particular, stands out. She is a beautiful young woman, a pediatrician who is dealing with her own cancer diagnosis. In her cancer support group, she is not allowed to talk about dying so she regularly comes to DC. As a physician, death is seen as a "failure" so she is not comfortable sharing her feelings in that environment. Her ability to articulate her dual perspective is a welcome addition to the group. Participants have shared death from various cultural perspectives including Italian, Irish, Jewish, Chinese, Buddhist, small town/big city, etc. Some people afterward apologize for not saying much in the group, but express their gratitude for being able to soak up the energy, saying that this is where they needed to be.

Many of us prefer not to think about death, let alone talk about it. Nevertheless, attending a Death Café may help you look at life and death in a whole new way. I highly recommend it! If you have attended a Death Café, I would love to hear about your experiences. A very big thank you to Jim for a thoughtful and thought-provoking interview. For more information on finding a Death Café near you, visit www.deathcafe.com.