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    Transforming Lives by Building Aging and Disability Friendly Neighborhoods

     agingCreating connections and ways for older and disabled adults to contribute to their communities strengthens both our neighborhoods and the participants themselves. Medical studies consistently show that remaining connected with others, learning new things, and having a sense of purpose can improve well-being and increase longevity.

    The Community Living Campaign taps the skills and talents of older adults and people with disabilities to meet the unique needs of each San Francisco neighborhood. Our guiding principles: People support things that they help create themselves, and all of us have something to contribute. As a result, the Community Living Campaign’s many programs have grown from a grassroots effort led by energetic local seniors and people with disabilities—our Community Connectors.

    Neighbors Helping Neighbors

    Two such individuals are Marcia Peterzell and her partner Linda Silver, Community Connectors who live in the St. Francis Square Co-op in the Western Addition. One of CLC’s first Connectors, Marcia decided to look for ways to strengthen support among her diverse group of aging neighbors.

    With the approval of her co-op’s board of directors, Marcia and her neighbors set up a Community Living Campaign Committee to host social events, offer workshops, and provide practical support to individual residents and their families. Every week, Marcia also writes an aging resources column for her co-op’s newsletter.

    Connections for Healthy Aging Workshops

    Marcia and Linda now share their talents with others throughout San Francisco. Over time, this dynamic duo has created an engaging workshop series, Connections for Healthy Aging, where they share what they’ve learned from their own experiences and skillfully guide discussions around topics like:

    • What is healthy aging and how do we address barriers that get in the way

    • Myths and stereotypes about aging and disability

    • The hospital stay—crisis and opportunity

    • How to recognize and build your own personal support network

    • Completing an Advance Directive to make sure your choices and wishes are followed

    • Making sure your “to do” list includes thoughts about fun, contribution, and legacy

    Empowering LGBT Seniors and People with Disabilities

    Marcia and Linda have presented their workshop ten times in San Francisco, including twice at Openhouse. Each workshop has the same core, but develops into something that reflects the perspectives of the participants.

    In reflecting back on the workshops, Marcia shares: “LGBT seniors are anxious about the aging process and going through these workshops has empowered and inspired both the trainers and the participants. It’s about connecting with the heart and building new relationships, not just on a professional level but on a personal level.”

    Linda found another valuable side to the workshop, having recently gone through a major medical event as a lesbian couple. “The work with the Community Living Campaign has emboldened me and supported me in telling our story. It has provided us with a place to work together and share lessons learned. It is important to be open and authentic because, in the long run, we are all in this together—facing health problems and the other challenges of getting older.”

    Marcia adds, “We’ve seen these workshops create new friendships, insights and opportunities for LGBT seniors and people with disabilities.” In fact, many of the people who participate in the Connections for Healthy Aging workshops go on to participate in, and contribute to, other Community Living Campaign programs.

    Programs and Activities to Support San Francisco’s Many Diverse Neighborhoods

    Marcia and Linda are part of Community Living Campaign’s inspiring group of leaders working throughout San Francisco. Our Community Connectors work with their neighbors and local organizations to identify their community’s unique needs and organize free and low-cost community-building activities. In addition to the St. Francis Square Co-Op group, the Community Living Campaign supports neighborhood networks in the OMI, Parkmerced, Bayview, and Cayuga neighborhoods.

    Over the past year, Community Living Campaign’s neighborhood volunteers delivered over 3,600 bags of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other wholesome foods to homebound seniors and people with disabilities. We coordinated over 380 hours of community-building activities such as walking and exercise groups, line dancing, breast cancer support, phone support networks, cooking classes, and forums on aging.

    Using Technology to
    Overcome Isolation

    Many Connections for Healthy Aging graduates have gone on to participate in our computer and social media training, both as students and as volunteers. Computer skills and online access are essential both to find information and to remain connected with friends and family. The Community Living Campaign works together with the City of San Francisco and other community organizations to close the digital divide, ensuring that seniors and people with disabilities don’t get left behind.

    Our trainers offer free classes and one-on-one tutoring in English, Spanish, and Chinese at senior centers, adult day health centers, and other community sites. Class topics include connecting through social media, finding healthcare information online, digital photos, using smartphones and tablets, and many more.

    Join In!

    None of us can solve the challenges facing an aging population alone. But working together, we can bring about the changes and increased funding needed to support people aging in their own homes and neighborhoods. Want to join or learn more about us?

    Call 415-821-1003 or go to our website at www.sfcommunityliving.org

    Marie Jobling is the Executive Director of the Community Living Campaign and is a longtime organizer on issues impacting seniors, people with disabilities, and caregivers in San Francisco.