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Wisdom and Experience Gained Over Decades

At the age of 91, famed astronaut Buzz Aldrin - the second man to set foot on the moon after Neil Armstrong in July 1969 - continues to passionately champion space exploration, through books and speaking engagements. Iconic 95-year-old British broadcaster David Attenborough advocates tirelessly on behalf of environmental causes, including through award-winning documentary films. Beloved actresses Julie Andrews and Betty White remain active at the ages of 85 and 99, respectively, and Andrews is also writing best-selling children’s books with her daughter. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, 96, and his wife, Rosalynn, 93, continue to work with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for those in need. 

With wisdom and experience gained over decades, sometimes in a variety of realms, older adults have much to contribute to their communities and our world. Friendship Village residents were recently featured in this story in Chicago Tribune PrimeTime, about running programs for their neighbors.  Friendship Village’s own Georgine Fiorillo, with a wide-ranging set of skills and interests - combined with a can-do attitude and zest for life, has become a poster child for giving back to the community while taking advantage of all it has to offer. Whether she is leading a trivia game, teaching fellow residents how to garden, or running chapel services, Fiorillo embraces living each day to the fullest. 

When George Eliot - the pen name for Victorian-era writer Mary Ann Evans - said that “it is never too late to be what you might have been,” she may have been talking about some vibrant seniors who were launched into fame comparatively later in life. Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses, began painting farm life scenes at the age of 78 after arthritis made it impossible for her to continue embroidering the scenes as she had been. Moses began exhibiting her work professionally after being discovered by a New York collector, and continued painting until shortly before her passing at the age of 101. Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first book in her eight-volume “Little House” series when she was 65, and finished the final volume when she was 76. Fauja Singh began participating in races at the age of 89, and at 101 became the oldest person to run a marathon. In May 2013, at the age of 80, Yuichiro Miura became the oldest man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, a record that still stands to this day.

Fame and fortune aside, there are numerous ways for older adults to get involved and give back to their communities.

  • Volunteer. Not only is volunteering beneficial to the receiving organization, it can also have personal benefits: studies have found a link between well-being and volunteerism in later life. About 60% of adults age 55 and older donate their time in some capacity, whether at the local library or animal shelter, a National Park, or somewhere in between. Older adult volunteers are integral to the success of the Schaumburg Park District’s monthly Schaumburg Heartbeat cable show, which spotlights topics of interest to the community. 
  • Become a mentor. It’s a great opportunity to share your knowledge and experiences with a child, youth or young adult, and build a mutually beneficial relationship. 
  • Advocate for a cause about which you are passionate. This could include writing letters, posting to social media, or getting involved with a local organization supporting the work. 
  • Share a skill. Residents of Friendship Village in Schaumburg bring a wealth of skills and talents to the vibrant retirement community, which they are more than willing to share. The community’s resident-led programming series has been incredibly well-received, with offerings including art classes, jewelry-making sessions, even a how-to on Zooming with grandchildren.

While older adults like Buzz Aldrin and Betty White may be grabbing headlines due to their continued fame and success, there’s no need to be a household name to continue making brilliant contributions as an older adult. You can take your cues - and inspiration - from Friendship Village’s Georgine Fiorillo or the seniors volunteering at Schaumburg Heartbeat, and find a way to make a difference right where you are. 

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