Senior Office Aims to Keep County's Over-50 Population Fully Engaged


(Monday, March 24, 2008 4:04 PM EDT)

The Baby Boomers aren't babies anymore, and as they reach their silver years, current services for seniors will have to change to meet their needs. Barbara Karro, manager of Arlington's Office of Senior Adult Programs, is gearing up to meet this challenge in the county.

Many Boomers cringe at being called a senior, and wouldn't be caught dead in a senior center. They “want to be young their whole life,” Karro said in a recent interview.

But as they age, they will have to answer the same questions as have generations before: What do I do with my time now that I'm retired? How do I stay social, now that many of my friends have died and my family lives far away? What is the meaning of my life?

The Office of Senior Adult Programs offers activities and venues for socializing that help answer some of these questions.

“All our programs are to keep [seniors] socially engaged and involved in relevant, meaningful activity,” Karro said. Just like their parents and grandparents, the Boomers will “need to be needed.”

Currently the county's strength-training and Pilates classes and travel opportunities are the draws for the younger set, but many Boomers aren't taking advantage of the many other programs offered for seniors.

Karro has some changes in mind to get more Boomers involved, such as updating senior center facilities and offering guidance on employment and volunteer opportunities that would use the skills they developed during their previous careers.

“People retiring at 60 today are not like their parents were at 60,” she said. “Many people are retiring before they're ready to disengage from the workforce.”

Bringing in peer advisors trained to provide employment counseling and offering seminars like “Flourishing After 50” have been a good start in changing the role of senior centers and programs, but Karro believes society, and the Boomers themselves, have to change their conception of aging to make a real difference.

Karro said she knows seniors who have had a hard time finding meaningful and challenging jobs. Employers have to realize they can use seniors as a resource, and should consider hiring them as consultants on a part-time basis, she said.

“We're a young country that worships youth,” Karro said. “There has to be a more wholesome attitude towards seniors.”

And seniors themselves should try and be more receptive of the idea of aging.

“End of life is scary,” Karro said. “But aging is no longer scary. You do develop limitations, but you learn to work around them.”

Karro hopes that bringing meaningful engagement to Boomers' lives through volunteer and employment opportunities “will create a synergy to break the barrier of their not coming” to senior centers for fear of being considered old, she said.

“My goal is to get people engaged in healthy activities that improve their quality of living,” Karro said. “This is the time of your life!”

Barbara Karro is manager of the Office of Senior Adult Programs for the county government.

Return to index of articles