On August 21st each year, we celebrate National Senior Citizen's Day, a day dedicated to recognizing the irreplaceable contributions of older adults to our society. In our fast-paced, future-oriented world, it's easy to overlook the invaluable importance of our seniors. They are more than just individuals who have experienced a large segment of life; they're the living embodiments of our history and the human personification of resilience, wisdom, and life-long learning. Let’s honor this profound generation that has guided us through growth and progression.
We can see the influence of the senior community in various aspects of our societal progress. Their contributions span politics, science, education, art, and culture. In politics, they have played a pivotal role in shaping our current societal norms and standards. Many of the freedoms and rights we enjoy today result from the tireless efforts of senior activists who championed equality, liberty, and justice in their younger years.
Such people include Noam Chomsky, a political activist, public intellectual, laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona, and an institute professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Noam is known as "The Father of Modern Linguistics," as he completely changed the study of language with his work "Syntactic Structures" and many other published works. Noam was a significant influence on the foundation of cognitive science and sociobiology.
Another example of a groundbreaking contributor is Dolores Huerta. Dolores is a civil rights activist and labor leader who fought for better job conditions for farm workers and rights for laborers. Dolores co-founded the United Farmworkers Association with Cesar Chavez, which has become the United Farm Workers (UFW) after merging with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. Her incredible accomplishments include fighting for women's and immigrants' rights. She has received many awards, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.
In science and technology, numerous seniors have made significant advancements that have pushed the boundaries of human understanding and capability. Their groundbreaking research and innovative technologies have enhanced our living standards and revolutionized our worldview.
One of the people responsible for changing the world's views forever is Jane Goodall, an English anthropologist and primatologist who has closely studied chimpanzees' social and familial interactions for 60 years. She is considered the world's top expert on chimpanzees, and she continues to travel the world speaking about the threats chimpanzees still face, discussing the importance of environmental conservation, and encouraging everyone to take action to rid the world of environmental crises.
One of "The Fathers of the Internet," Vint Cerf led the creation of MCI Mail, the first commercial email system to connect to the Internet. He continues to make technological advances with his work today; he is currently collaborating with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop Interplanetary Internet to allow communication to other planets using radio/laser communications. Vint has a lifetime of technological achievements and creations, allowing this world to communicate quickly and freely for the first time.
Many seniors continue working in their professions well into their golden years. Those continuing their careers into typical retirement ages still feel they contribute to the world. Their job continues to make a difference, not only as a mentor for the less experienced but it helps them combat isolation and loneliness, which can decrease the likelihood of depression.
Seniors' expertise and work ethic make them an asset to various industries. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), age diversity among employees allows them to create valuable collaborations between experienced and inexperienced workers by allowing the unskilled worker to learn more and perform better. These collaborations benefit both the employees and the employer. Older adults bring a wealth of knowledge and experience that should significantly help employers embrace age diversity. Their mentorship molds future leaders, driving progress in every field of human endeavor.
Teaching and Leading
Seniors are often our most passionate educators. They are the torchbearers of wisdom, tirelessly imparting knowledge and expertise to younger generations. Seniors are the ideal mentors for challenging situations, career choices, or personal dilemmas. Their experience navigating life's ups and downs provides a unique perspective not found in textbooks or formal education.
Seniors comprise an increasingly significant portion of our society and connect us to our past while guiding us toward our future. By sharing their stories, they paint a picture of our heritage, giving us a sense of where we come from. The adversities and triumphs of their experiences shape the lessons they pass down from one generation to the next. These life lessons act as lighthouses, illuminating our path and steering us clear of life's stumbling blocks.
Some of the benefits of teaching and leading younger generations extend to the seniors themselves. Younger people can carry on legacies, cultures, and languages. Essential parts of the past can carry on through stories and memorabilia. Seniors' ability to tell their stories and talk about past pains may also provide therapeutic relief to the storyteller. They can put their lives, struggles, and victories out in the open for younger generations to learn from and help everyone feel a sense of hope.
Volunteerism and Community Engagement
Seniors' contributions extend beyond measurable societal impact. They are often active participants in volunteer work and community engagement. They selflessly give their time and energy to support charitable causes, neighborhood initiatives, and social welfare programs.
According to Americorps' bi-yearly civic engagement trend analysis, between the years 2019 and 2021, 22.7% of formal volunteers were seniors. Formal volunteers help through organizations and other public health ventures, even if only supporting through efforts like volunteering at food banks or tutoring students online. This same analysis reported 57.2% of informal volunteers were seniors. Informal volunteers help outside an organization, including those who do favors for neighbors, run errands, watch each other's children, house sit, and do other things to lend a hand. Seniors' dedication to improving the world sets an inspiring example for younger generations.
Research shows that older adults who stay actively engaged within their communities exhibit a heightened sense of purpose, which may lead to improved health and increased longevity. Social connectedness may help cope with illness and decrease the likelihood of depression. Volunteering and engagement with the community help seniors to feel relevant and needed. Not only are they doing something to help others, but they are also boosting their serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters that give feelings of well-being and satisfaction. Endorphins could also be released, which could help relieve pain, as endorphins are the body's natural painkiller.
Every small act of kindness they perform has a ripple effect, fostering a sense of unity and mutual support within communities. By nurturing relationships and strengthening social bonds, they enhance their neighborhoods' overall quality of life. Though this contribution may not make headlines, it is a testament to their inherent kindness and benevolence, vital ingredients in the recipe for a compassionate society.
Celebrate and Support Seniors
National Senior Citizen's Day is about recognizing their past accomplishments, acknowledging their ongoing contributions, and ensuring their continued social inclusion and engagement. It's a call to action, urging us to show gratitude and respect for their invaluable contributions.
Everyone can help by volunteering at a senior center or a senior living community. School classes can get teenagers involved. For instance, some schools have teens in high school interview World War II veterans and write a book report based on the veterans' experiences. Intergenerational discussions allow children and seniors to see the world from the other's perspective, helping them to appreciate each other. These interviews also help to preserve the seniors' history, ensuring their memories and efforts live on.
For those seeking involvement, there are countless ways to help. For example, one can apply for a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) or Americorps to start a local program. There are many programs available to benefit seniors and other generations alike. For example, Americorps' Seniors Foster Grandparent Program allows Americans over 55 to volunteer to support children with special needs to improve their emotional, social, or academic development. They can also help children learn to read, tutor struggling students, care for children with disabilities and premature infants, mentor young mothers, mentor troubled teenagers, or help abused and neglected children.
Clearwater Living recognizes the inherent value that seniors offer younger generations and their desire for purpose and meaning, which is why we provide opportunities for lifelong learning and promote volunteerism through our Empowered Living lifestyle program.
This National Senior Citizen’s Day, help us celebrate our seniors—the timeless pillars of society and the bridges between our past, present, and future. Their presence is a gift filled with a lifetime of experiences, knowledge, and wisdom.