When I first moved into my neighborhood, I was a little dismayed that 90% of my neighbors were retired empty-nesters, who, at first glance, I seemed to have little in common with. Where were all the hip, fun southwest block parties and beer crawls I’d heard happened in my diverse city of Albuquerque, NM?
Well, it didn’t take long for me to realize that while the party scene wouldn’t be happening anytime soon, having older people around would prove to be a treasure that held value beyond what I had expected or imagined. As the years have gone by, I’ve come to consider my neighbors dear friends.
Senior citizens have a wealth of life experiences, and many times, these years have taught them a thing or two. Sure, simply being advanced in age doesn’t make someone a life expert, but many older people have wrestled through difficult circumstances and come out on the other side with a different perspective on life.
Whether you’re looking to diversify your social circle with wisdom and experience held by older people, or you’re looking to serve your community and give back to your elders, there are plenty of ways to get involved with senior citizens.
Find a mutual hobby
The best gym in my city is the one housed inside the local Jewish Community Center. It’s also frequented by the 55+ crowd. After going to fitness classes for years and using the pool during summers, I have come to know quite a few of the other regulars and they bring a richness to my life. Showing up to the same classes and seeing the same faces sitting by the pool each summer has allowed friendships to develop naturally through our common interests.
One woman in particular — who is around the same age as my mother — serves as the official cheerleader in none other than CrossFit and other high-intensity classes. Famous for her wildly bright workout clothes and her upbeat and positive attitude, she brings enthusiasm and cheer to every class she’s in! It just so happens that she also lives near me, and I often see her out walking her dog or running on local trails. I don’t live in a particularly small town, so this feeling of life overlapping naturally is a rare and precious gift.
Intergenerational friendships are vital to the fabric of our communities. Interested in finding one? Check out your local community centers, gyms, and senior centers to see what older people are up to, and get involved!
Ask for advice
Most people — young and old alike — love to dish out advice if they feel they are an expert on a topic. The great thing about seniors is that many of them actually are experts on a few topics. One of the ways I’ve gotten to know my neighbors is by simply asking for their help in discerning what some of the plants in my yard need to be cared for correctly. And since they typically have a lot of extra free time, they’ve been happy to give it.
I have learned so much about gardening and plant care from them, and in the meantime, I’ve gotten to learn about their history, hear their stories, and understand their perspective on life. Whether they have achieved something that I want to emulate, or made mistakes that show me where to utilize caution in my own life, elderly people have so much to teach us. Their insight has given me hope, taught me valuable lessons, and just plain made for many an entertaining afternoon.
Offer your help
While many seniors are more than capable of taking care of themselves, they may need an extra hand here or there. Perhaps you’ve seen senior citizens around your church or apartment complex but haven’t had the chance to make a meaningful connection. Go ahead and offer your help — maybe catch them unloading a trunk of groceries and lend a quick hand, or see them outside doing yard work and pitch in. Or perhaps just letting them know you’re always willing and able to help should any needs arise. Chances are they may have something you can assist them with, and even if they don’t, knowing their neighbors “have their back” so to speak can be very comforting for anyone — young and old alike.
I often help my neighbors carry in heavy groceries or buy them birdseed in bulk when I’m at the store. Simply checking in on them to make sure they are doing OK can make an impact, and if you do this enough, chances are that along the way, a sweet friendship may develop.