The celebration of the young—however and whatever numbers you may use to define—barrages our senses daily. In advertising and other forms of media, it’s clear that American society often worships at the altar of youth—including billions spent trying to look or feel young.
Against that backdrop, a group of Oak Park-area volunteers has built a movement that celebrates an often-overlooked part of our population: seniors, a group that they define as anyone 60 years of age or older. And the latest byproduct of their effort comes in the form of Celebrating Seniors Week. Between May 15th and May 22nd, more than 40 events will be held throughout Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park in conjunction with the endeavor.
Annually, the group holds its weeklong celebration to coincide with Older Americans Month, sponsored by the Administration on Community Living, organized under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly all of the events are free of charge for all comers, and every event is free for anyone 60-plus.
The sessions are geared toward education and entertainment, featuring the creative ideas of community organizations such as libraries, park districts, hospitals and senior service agencies. In addition, local businesses are inviting seniors to go out and shop or dine during the week. Many will honor seniors by offering dining deals, special discounts and promotions.
A kickoff event is on Thursday, May 8th at The Nineteenth Century Charitable Association, 178 Forest Ave. in Oak Park. On that night, the group honors the 2014 “60 Over 60” Class, a wide-ranging collection of men and women whose efforts have made a profound impact on the three communities. This year’s wrap-up event will be highlighted by an address from Harry Porterfield, the 85-year-old newscaster who exemplifies the prototype of an active older adult who still has plenty of contributions to make.
Past keynote speakers have included former Chicago Bulls basketball player Sidney Green and ABC 7’s Roz Varon, a River Forest resident.
Four years ago, communicating seniors’ vitality and far-reaching impact inspired Jim Flanagan to create the Celebrating Seniors Coalition, the volunteer corps that organizes events each year. A lifelong resident of Oak Park and River Forest, Flanagan is a financial planning expert who specializes in serving people at or near retirement.
Over his career, he has come into contact with numerous men and women who still have plenty of talents and wisdom to share.
“Too often, we take for granted all of the hard work, sacrifice and creativity that previous generations contributed to enable our way of life today,” said Flanagan. “Our community is a great place to grow and age—and we owe a big thanks to those who have come before us for nurturing the area’s outstanding quality of life.”
Oak Park and River Forest township governments are sponsors of Celebrating Seniors. The organizations work with those who have traditionally “quiet voices”—individuals with needs in the areas of mental health, youth services and senior services. So having an organization like Celebrating Seniors, to raise awareness of seniors and the role that they play in the community—as well as the ways in which they can receive support—is an invaluable resource, said River Forest Township Supervisor Carla Sloan.
“There is so much good that the townships are able to do on a daily basis, to make a real positive difference in many people’s lives, and in their quality of life,” said Sloan. “We are grateful for any opportunity to shine a light on that.”