The Coming Culture Is Aging-Oriented

The county's first volunteer fair aimed at retirees drew about 200 people last month. Attendees were encouraged to volunteer for duties such as escorting elderly residents of a county retirement community, delivering meals to the homebound and tutoring. Sonja Horn, above left, and Donna Skrobala are assisted at the fair at Kings Park Library in Burke by Susan O'Boyle. Below, Sabrina Gibson talks with Henry James.
The county's first volunteer fair aimed at retirees drew about 200 people last month. Attendees were encouraged to volunteer for duties such as escorting elderly residents of a county retirement community, delivering meals to the homebound and tutoring. Sonja Horn, above left, and Donna Skrobala are assisted at the fair at Kings Park Library in Burke by Susan O'Boyle. Below, Sabrina Gibson talks with Henry James. (Kevin Clark - Twp)
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 12, 2007

When Karren Scott retired from her job last year as a manager at the Department of Defense, she sometimes found herself "completely disoriented" as she made the transition from a life with "a very clear mission every day" to the more relaxed pace of a retiree.

Now, Scott says, she's reinventing herself, taking classes in Annandale and searching for rewarding volunteer work.

Still healthy and active at 55 -- and determined to continue living in her home in the Alexandria section of Fairfax -- Scott is one of a growing number of baby boomer retirees that Fairfax County hopes to get more involved in their communities -- by volunteering, for example -- as the Board of Supervisors works on an initiative to better serve and accommodate the county's increasing older population.

Across the country, jurisdictions are grappling to address a senior population that surely will grow dramatically in the next two decades, mostly because of the large baby boom generation, some 77 million U.S. residents born between 1946 and 1964.

In Fairfax, a county report last year said, the county will face a heightened demand for transportation services, accessible housing and recreation programs as the senior population increases due to longer life spans and changing lifestyles -- many more people now choose to "age in place" and remain in their homes here rather than relocating to Florida or Arizona. The county's current population of about 86,000 residents age 65 and older will grow to about 138,000 in 2020, according to county demographer Anne Cahill.

Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), chairman of the county's committee on aging, said that county plans, still in the works, will "ensure that Fairfax County is aging-friendly and deals with the scope of services from engaging senior populations to our own workforce to mobility. Our transit is focused on the challenge of getting people to and from work. What about seniors held captive in their own suburban homes?"

The board's proposal is not expected until September, but some change already is taking place. Last month, the county had its first volunteer fair aimed at retirees, hoping to lure Scott and 200 others who showed up at Kings Park Library to start volunteering for duties such as escorting the more elderly residents of a county retirement community, making Meals on Wheels deliveries or tutoring.

"We're looking down the line to see if there are things we should be doing today to ensure Fairfax is aging-friendly, but also to anticipate what the needs and possibilities will be in the future," said Grace Starbird, director of the Fairfax Area Agency on Aging.

"It's not all negative -- that you're old and sick and will need services," Starbird said. "We have to anticipate that we have some of the brightest and most talented seniors around. . . . We should be tapping into that and benefiting from that."

With boomers, county officials say, traditional concepts of retirement and senior services are shifting. This is a generation -- in the words of Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) -- that "does not really retire. We start doing something different."

For example, there's Paul Kaplan, 61, of Annandale. Kaplan, who showed up to the volunteer fair wearing a hipster leather jacket, thinks his retirement will include a dash of volunteering, a little paid consulting and a paid gig as a referee for children's sports leagues -- as well as Caribbean travel with his wife and warm-weather rides on his 1982 Honda GL500 Silver Wing motorcycle.

"I don't have a clear picture of my retirement yet," Kaplan said. "It's still developing in my mind. . . . I want to stay healthy and active, both physically and mentally, give back to the county, and go back to traveling."


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