Bridging the generational divides

On a Saturday morning at the Olympia Senior Center, Linda Terry, the founder of Sharing Teens and Elders Project (STEP), is welcoming longtime and new participants for the day’s events. Committed volunteers are putting out snacks and coffee while sneaking in praise for Linda’s unwavering dedication to bridge generations and foster a bond between elders and a caring group of local teens.

STEP, well into its fifth year, is a perfect example of intergenerational engagement — the primary reason why the program is featured as an Inspiring Community Connection in the 2018 edition of AARP’s “Where We Live: A Community for All Ages.” The third edition in the AARP series highlights inspiring ideas and solutions from local leaders to improve their communities, respond to pressing issues, and build relationships. STEP has also been honored as a Program of Distinction by Generations United, dedicated to improving lives through intergenerational collaboration.

“The program has evolved beyond my original vision,” said Linda. “When we started, the gatherings were pretty structured with group activities, but as we progressed, both teens and elders expressed a desire to just talk and share stories.”

A myriad of studies tout the benefits of intergenerational interactions for older adults as a way to decrease loneliness and isolation, a chronic and increasing phenomenon which has a marked effect on health and well-being. Older adults with opportunities for intergenerational connection report less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction.

What people may not know is that our younger generation is experiencing loneliness at a higher rate than older generations. A Cigna survey reported that Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, have the highest score of loneliness on the UCLA loneliness scale. People scoring 43 and above are considered lonely. Generation Z had an overall score of 48.3. By comparison, baby boomers scored 42.4, and the Greatest Generation had a score of 38.6.

For teen participants, interacting with older adults is a way to disrupt the preconceived notions of aging.  These monthly conversations allow for personal narratives of historic moments — a time when men first landed on the moon, the rise of the civil rights movement, and women’s empowerment. For some, it is about connecting current interests and broadening horizons.

At the Olympia Senior Center, Johnny LaBranche, an 18-year-old, sits with elder Bill Carey. They have more in common than meets the eye – namely, outdoor adventures. Johnny loves the challenges of rock climbing, and Bill has spent years as a whitewater river guide.

A high school senior, Johnny originally joined STEP to meet academic requirements, but he kept returning, making friends with the elders and other teens in his time with the program. Even those who have gone off to college return during breaks to catch up with participants.

Linda Terry also provides space and a small stipend for young musicians to practice their art. On this Saturday morning, two students are performing during the opening session and then join the conversation. 

The opportunity to play in front of an audience has brought some musicians back for more. That is the case for Clio, a 14-year-old guitarist and student at Olympia High School. During her performance the month before, she was chatting with Bill Carey about musical influences. Not only did Bill encourage her to pursue her passion, he sent her away with a list of recommended artists like jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery and “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald.

There is no doubt that these conversations are having a positive impact on the entire group. The older adults consistently remark about a renewed hope for the future that these young adults inspire.

American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Connections between generations are essential for the mental health and stability of a nation.” Olympia’s STEP project and Linda Terry’s leadership provide a real-life example of the benefits of bringing generations together for the betterment of all.

Learn more about the award-winning program at

 Christina Clem wrote this article for AARP Washington.

Ditch the myths and keep (or start) exercising

While it’s expected that most older people tend to slow down with age, the notion that seniors and soon-to-be seniors should trade in exercise and their active lifestyles for bingo and rocking chairs is definitely antiquated.

So says Chad McCann, a Tacoma physical therapist who maintains that when it comes to exercise for the 55-and-older population, plenty of myths continue to drive people’s actions – or rather, inactions – when it comes to putting in the right amount of sweat equity to stay healthy and active.

“From a purely physiological perspective, sure, you’re going to start to slow down a little here and there as you get older, but that doesn’t mean you just roll over and accept these so-called consequences of age,” said McCann, a physical therapist with 3Dimensional Physical Therapy and Sports Conditioning in Tacoma. “As they say, age is just a number. You want to be smart about how you adapt activity to certain age-related limitations, sure, but regular exercise remains just as critical now as when you were younger – perhaps even more so.”

To help encourage the 55-and-older crowd to continue making exercise a standard aspect of their everyday lives, McCann provided a list of his top five exercise myths for older adults:

Myth 1: It’s too late to start.

 It doesn’t matter what you’ve done before now, McCann says. Even if you’ve never had a regular exercise routine before, it’s never too late to start. “Better late than never” when it comes to exercise isn’t just an adage — it’s a statement backed by multiple studies. Exercising later in life can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

Myth 2: My body’s too frail, aka, I might break a hip.

Unless you’ve been told this by a medical professional (i.e., physician or physical therapist) based on a specific condition or injury, this is likely fear talking. Not only does regular exercise help strengthen your body’s stability, balance and flexibility, reducing the chances of a fall, but McCann points out it can also help strengthen your bones. (More on that later.)

Myth 3: I have joint pain, so I should stay away from exercise.

Again, the opposite is true. According to McCann, it’s crucial people with arthritis partake in regular exercise. Not only does it improve strength and flexibility, but exercise can also reduce joint stiffness and pain while helping sufferers ward off fatigue.

Myth 4: I’m too old for weight training.

Weight training, also known as resistance and strength training, actually takes on a more critical role as you age. According to McCann, not only does a stronger body help seniors stay upright and confident, but weight-bearing exercise can also ward off the onset of osteoporosis by helping maintain bone density.

Myth 5: I’m better off focusing on my mind, not my body.

Fact is, focusing on the body is focusing on the mind, says McCann. According to multiple studies, including one published recently in Nature Medicine, exercise improves brain health, helps ward off dementia, and may even slow the progression of dementia. In addition, exercise reduces stress and anxiety, and staying active often equates to a better social life.

According to 2018 physical guidelines by the U.S. Department of Health, older adults should shoot for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, plus weekly balance and muscle-strengthening exercises.

And while fitness levels and certain limitations shouldn’t keep most older adults from exercise, some exercises may require modifications based on such conditions, McCann says. Fortunately, a physical therapist can provide personalized guidance based on individual health conditions, movement limitations, and physician recommendations, he said.

Source: 3Dimensional Physical Therapy and Sports Conditioning.

When I look in the mirror, for the first five seconds I still see a 20-year-old. Then the visible wrinkles around my eyes and jowls provide a friendly reminder that I’m not 20 any more. At that moment in the mirror, I challenge myself physically, as I don’t feel like I’m over 40, and the face I’m looking at cannot be accurate, but according to my birth certificate it is.

I mean, I still feel young, so how can I look so different? Simply put, I’m just a 20-year-old that now has 25 years of work experience, a family, and has journeyed through the ups and downs of life.

Even though this is what I believe, I now know others don’t feel the same, especially when it comes to the workplace. Here is my recent reality check: Last year I left my corporate job of 14 years. I was in a space where I had the opportunity to find a new job with a new company. I felt fresh, excited and limitless. Although it had been a while since I last interviewed, I thought, “No problem. I’ve got this. I used to any get any job I wanted, so finding a new one should pretty be easy.” After a few interviews (good interviews, I thought), I wasn’t getting hired. Frustration set in because I could not figure out what was so different this time around. After all, my resume was stronger and more accomplished than my younger years.

But something had changed. I aged.

Call me naive, but I did not think that my age would be an obstacle in the workplace. I had heard this from other women over the years, but I chose not to believe them because certainly it would never happen to me.

Here is a true story: A sales recruiter was helping a sales manager fill an open position. The recruiter sent her a resume of a female candidate with a college graduation date of 1998. The sales manager abruptly turned down the resume. In addition, she let the recruiter know that she didn’t want to see any resumes with college graduation dates prior to 2003. This was the sales manager’s criterion for what she deemed to be a viable candidate. Not experience, not achievements, not abilities. Simply age.

This true story was painful for me to hear. Here was a woman selling out other women and contributing to the stigma that we fight every day, and sadly her perspective is a harsh reality. However, let this statistic give you another reality check and perspective: In 2024, women over 65 will make up roughly the same percentage of the female workforce as older men do of the male workforce. Additionally, twice as many women over 55 will be in the labor force as women ages 16 to 24.

Knowing the stigma, knowing the numbers and the reality, what is the best way to approach finding a new job later in life? Here are five tips when looking for a new job over the age of 40:

1.    Use your network.

Sending our resumes to career websites will do nothing for us. We get pushed aside as we are categorized. The tip here is to use our network of colleagues, former business associates and friends to find companies that are hiring and will have a genuine interest in what we can do for their organizations. This method does work. Finding like-minded individuals with the same goals of working smart and getting stuff done will provide the best platform for finding a new working environment.

2.    Show off your skills.

At this point in our careers, we have a proven list of accomplishments and skillsets. We have navigated some of our toughest times and have already been through the learning. Because of this, we require less training and possess the right skills, because yeah, we know how to do it. We need to show off our confidence and accolades to a potential employer. They need to know that our leadership skills and experience will fit in flawlessly with their company.

3. Be bold.

We can ask harder questions in the interview process and as an employee. Perhaps questions that challenge company methods or goals. If anything as women, unfortunately, we have been taught to be compliant and agreeable to get through the stepping-stones of our careers. We don’t have to do that any more. We have arrived. Work experience has taught us to think quickly, make decisions and share opinions. We have a lot to teach, and hiring companies need to appreciate this. 

4.    Seek a mentor, be a mentor.

In recent weeks, I have had great women mentor me. Women of a certain age. Women who are drama-free, make things happen, and don’t sweat the small stuff. I appreciate them, have learned from them, and have committed to do the same for others. This is important, as this will help us change the tide and break the stigma.

5.    We are already tech-savvy.

Much to the disbelief of others, age doesn’t stifle our tech knowledge. It’s who we are as a society.  Most of us already use work-related apps like Zoom, Slack, Dropbox and others. The point is, our tech knowledge isn’t lacking, so that is no excuse for hiring companies or managers. We are already there. This is not a hindrance.

The battle continues. In my earlier years as a woman in the corporate world, I fought to make a mark. Now I’m fighting the same female battle in addition to 20-plus years of life and work experience. This should get easier, shouldn’t it? It doesn’t, so it is up to us to change it. We have to change the mindset by challenging the current stigma. Because we have arrived and we aren’t going anywhere.

Holly Caplan is a workplace issues expert, career coach and author. Her website is

Thanks to extensive awareness created by government and those in the financial services industry, seniors are now more aware than ever that they need to have enough funds to carry them through retirement. The previous figure of an estimated 70 percent of pre-retirement income has been adjusted to a higher and more accurate 80 percent. This is to ensure that the average American, who is expected to retire at the age of 63, can live comfortably for the next 18 years.

Unfortunately, many won’t meet this target and will run the risk of running out of money should they retire sooner or live longer. Instead of searching for jobs that will hire senior citizens, a great option for those who didn’t save enough during their work life is to start a business to fund retirement. Here are a few tips to ensure your senior-citizen business idea ends up being a good investment:

Make use of good resources.

Before investing time and money into a concept, it’s important to consider the things that will form a good foundation for the business. This includes:

• Creating a business that will allow you to maintain your lifestyle. For instance, if you have a hard time moving around, having a business that requires travel may cause frustration. Another thing to consider is that the business may require additional cash flow from time to time, but shouldn’t affect your standard of living in retirement.

• Tap into the right market. It will be difficult to sell a snowsuit in a tropical coastal town. Therefore, proper research needs to be done. This would include a feasibility study for those who wish to start up a whole new concept. Once the feasibility study is complete, do the business plan. This not only allows you to gain insight into what you’re getting yourself into, but also provides a blueprint for your business. It will also allow you to set up a suitable timeframe for breakeven to take place. After this, the business will need to generate a profit to ensure you don’t have to tap into your personal retirement reserves.

• Form a strong tribe. The word “tribe” might be millennialspeak, but it’s important that small business owners surround themselves with people who will add value to your business. For instance, business coaches, mentors, a network of business owners, the right accountant and attorney, and great staff.

Make use of modern business techniques.

There is no reason seniors only need to rely on traditional methods to give their businesses a boost. For instance, staffing issues can easily be resolved by hiring freelancers to get the job done. This works well for short-term or one-off projects. Another aspect to consider is that remote workers may also add value if the business environment can make use of it.

Modern funding options will also provide seniors with the option to boost their business without relying on traditional funding routes, such as taking out costly loans. Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe are one option for a cash injection into the business. Another funding option for your retiree business is the many online business loans options.

Seniors should also allow their passion to dictate the terms of their business. Although starting a business is hard work, it shouldn’t feel like it, and that is what passion for the business achieves. Passion for a business will allow seniors and retirees to enjoy that extra cash inflow and the opportunity to remain an active member of society without feeling that they’ve worked a day in their retirement life.

So, what are you waiting for? Now’s the time to start the business you dreamed of your entire life while working for someone else.

Melissa Clark, who wrote this article, works in marketing and customer relationship management for Incfile, a company that advises new entrepreneurs and small-business owners. This article was originally published on the Incfile blog.