Well into the twenty-first century, American society seems uncertain about the process of aging and the status of its older citizens.
While seniors clearly play a major role in society (including as the most consistent participants in politics), they also face problems. Alzheimer's Disease remains without a cure and is one of the most urgent areas of medical research, insurance companies are marketing expensive policies for "long term" nursing home care, politicians argue about dismantling or protecting the Social Security system, and the age of retirement is being debated in many circles.
The quality of life for seniors varies widely, some isolated at home or in institutions with very sedentary lives, others are caring for grandchildren, writing books, performing on stage, bicycling, hiking, swimming, going to fitness classes and showing remarkable zest for life.
There are sayings such as "the sixties are the new forties" and "the seventies are the new fifties."
One of the best indicators of this trend is the action, a few years ago, by the American Association of Retired Persons to change its name simply to "AARP" and brand itself to "address the needs and concerns of the 50+ population including the 76 million strong baby boom generation." The organization's magazine changed its name from Modern Maturity to AARP Magazine and its web site states that the publication "covers a broad range of topics, including health, finance and leisure."
In this context, I had the pleasure recently of sitting down with Raymond Dufort of Athol, secretary of the Mount Grace Chapter 3673, which welcomes members from the nine towns of the North Quabbin Region.
The local AARP's slogan is "To serve, not to be served," and among its most consistent services has been raising funds for scholarships for local high school graduates to continue their studies in allied health fields. In accordance with its nonprofit status, the organization also focuses on non-partisan advocacy, as does the national AARP.
Athol Golden Age Club, a sister organization, was founded in 1956 with an emphasis on friendship, leisure and recreation.
The official date of incorporation of the AARP chapter was May 23, 1984. According to Dufort, Helen Kennedy of Athol is the sole survivor of the founding directors. The other founders were Everett P. Belloli of Orange, president; Norman B. Lawton of Athol, vice president; Lotta Lashenske of Athol, treasurer; and Jean S. Rand of Athol, clerk. Also listed as directors were Athol residents Estelle M. DeGrace, Melvin A. Rand, Alice E. Burnham, Louise Gibson, J. Alfred Hachey and Betty M. Lawton.
The purposes of the chapter, as given in the articles of corporation, include "to help foster equality of opportunity for older Americans by promoting continued growth and development, self-respect, self-confidence and usefulness, by encouraging their participation in contemporary life; and by stimulating a dynamic public interest in the aging population and recognition of its potential."
One often neglected and worsening societal problem is elder abuse, and Dufort is hoping that the local AARP chapter will confront this issue with as much intensity as others have challenged bullying among youth.
With these purposes and others in mind, Mount Grace Chapter Board of Directors hope that new members will join and get involved, as many of the current members are in their 80s and 90s. Local dues are only $5 a year and membership in the national AARP is expected ($16 a year).
Now retired, Dufort was trained as an educator and worked for many years in private and public secondary and higher education in the United States and the African nation of Zambia., becoming a specialist in system development and adaptation -- a perfect skill for helping this organization to grow.
Any interested person, whether a 50-year-old "shocked" when a membership promotion letter from the national AARP arrives in the mail, or a comfortably established community elder, can learn more about the local AARP by attending a monthly (except January and July) meeting on the first Monday at 1 p.m. at the Athol Senior Center or contacting any one of the officers or directors. Dufort can be reached by phone at 978-249-7519 or by email, email@example.com.
The following officers were installed on June 2: president, Rick Kwiatkowski; vice president, Joan Gates; secretary, Raymond Dufort; treasurer, Norman Gates, and assistant treasurer, Christine Musante. Serving directors are Shirley Kaczmarczyk, John Musante, Elizaberth Lilley and Betty Tolppa.
The anniversary event will take place at the senior center, Lord Pond Plaza, Aug. 4 at noon, with a chicken barbecue luncheon. Tickets are $12 and reservations can be made by calling Marion Sawin at 978-249-8923 or sending a check no later than July 23 to AARP Barbecue, c/o Senior Center, 82 Freedom St., Athol MA 01331. All adults are welcome.
Another event that will be attended by many AARP members is the North Quabbin Community Senior Picnic, Aug. 28, at 11 a.m., Silver Lake Pavilion, Athol, sponsored by several town councils on aging, the Golden Agers, AARP, Friends of the Athol Council on Aging and Franklin County Home Care Corp. Last year more than 250 seniors attended the picnic, which includes burgers and hotdogs along with salads, desserts and drinks. Entertainment will be provided by The Relics, a regional band. Tickets are $5 per person and are available at the Council on Aging office in Athol.