Laura Newland, executive director, DC Office of Aging and Community Living

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer, it’s definitely my favorite time of year. There’s something about the season that brings back memories of my childhood spent with my grandparents: playing in their backyard, watching my grandpa tinkering in his garage, playing cards with my grandma, sneaking hard candies from the candy jar, pulling endless weeds for a couple of bucks and eating concord grapes straight off the vine. I can still feel my grandpa’s handlebar mustache on my cheek when I hugged him and my grandma’s soft cheek and faint smell that I can only describe as “what she smelled like.”

Last month, I took a trip back home to celebrate my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary. My anniversary gift to them was a set of Adirondack chairs I built myself.

My grandfather was a carpenter, and my dad and my brothers are very handy. We say sometimes that we get things done the Newland way — meaning it’s not always pretty, it’s probably not conventional, and it’s certainly not perfect, but it’s functional and done.

Growing up on a small farm, I was ready to be done with all things that required getting my hands dirty by the time I got to college. I can still look at a hay field and get flashbacks of pieces of hay poking everywhere, sweating in the high summer heat, and then sweating some more in barns with little air circulation.

So I moved to one city and then another, building a life where I spent most of my summers in buildings that have the air conditioning on too cold. One day looking for a coffee table I thought to myself, maybe I could make something nicer than what I can afford to buy. And the thought alone made me think of my grandpa who could make and fix anything (or it seemed like it anyway). My grandpa passed away, but he seemed to be with me when I made my very first coffee table (the Newland way, of course).

I decided to make the chairs for my parents although I had not touched my tools in a very long time. It was as much a gift of my time as anything else. And I think I wanted to remind them, and myself, that no matter where I live, I carry their gifts, and their parents’ gifts with me.

I’m still discovering what my grandparents mean to me, years after they passed away. Just their presence in my life gave me direction, helped me develop life skills, and taught me empathy at a young age. These connections are not just important within our families, they are the foundation of our communities. What older generations provide goes beyond the skills, knowledge, and experiences they share. Sometimes, simply being present has an impact that can’t be measured in figures and data. Our older adults teach us how to be human, whether they are relatives, friends, neighbors or teachers.

I talk a lot about what makes a community and how can government support community. We know that supporting seniors is key to ensuring that our communities are strong and resilient. That’s why the D.C. Office on Aging is so focused on programs that support our older residents as they continue living in their own homes and communities.

Our network of 20 community-based organizations, including Lead Agencies in every ward are driven by the same common goal of keeping our seniors active, healthy and engaged in their communities. For as long as we can provide services that will help you remain at home, we know the entire community benefits and we are doing our part in improving the quality of life for all ages.

It’s your lifetime of experience, your presence, and your values that are the cornerstones of community. This summer, I encourage you to spend more time building these bonds and connecting with our younger generations. And give us a call at 202-724-5626 to learn more about DCOA programs.

Be well and remember — aging is living!

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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