We have a neighbor I’ll call Violet. She is 94. When I saw her this morning she was sporting a florescent swirl of indigo, plum and crimson hair. At first, when I noticed a bounce of color on top of her head I thought it was a flowered hat.
As she approached me to say good morning I realized that the spray of color was her actual hair and that she was, as usual, dressed to the nines with makeup and jewelry perfectly in place.
Violet is a trendy dresser with a hip personality. She has lived in our little cul-de-sac since the 1970’s when our neighborhood was first built by the Streng brothers, Bill and Jim. Most people in our close-knit community take great pride in maintaining their midcentury modern homes and yards, and in watching out for one another.
The past few years Violet has pushed through a few setbacks including dizzy spells, pneumonia and a mild stroke. But each time she has proved to be resilient even when her normal energy has been diminished just a wee bit. She once told me, “Every time I think that I’m getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens. So I’m still here.”
Not long after her stroke, we noticed Violet engaging in her favorite morning ritual of putzing in the expansive rose garden that engulfs her entire front yard. Before the sun gets too intense, she will spend an hour or two pruning the bushes, clipping off dead flowers, and pulling a few weeds.
Frequently when she slowly makes her way out to the community mail boxes in front of our house, she’ll linger for a while hoping that another neighbor will come outside to get their mail so that she can say “hi” and chit chat.
I’m a chit chatter too, so I will sometimes loiter by the mailbox to find out how she’s doing. On the weekends, my partner Joe likes to bring Violet his homemade barbeque or roasted lemon chicken. She usually returns the kindness a few days later by bringing us her special chili cornbread or blueberry muffins.
Our other neighbor, Fred, occasionally takes Violet out for Sunday brunch and helps her with small, and sometimes not so small, projects around the house. The day that Violet had her stroke, it was Fred who called the paramedics and stuck by her side to make sure she was okay. Since then I think they talk on the phone about every other day.
Across the street, and three houses down from Violet is another neighbor named Hilda who also checks in with her every week. Hilda will sometimes grocery shop or pick up prescriptions for Violet. They occasionally have morning coffee together. It was Hilda and her husband Mel who took care of Violet’s little Yorkshire Terriers when she was recovering in the hospital from her stroke.
Two other neighbors, Mary and Bill, always bring Violet little gifts when they return from their frequent vacations to Mexico or wherever . . . bringing her bottles of vanilla, miniature jade trees, or exotic treats for her dogs.
When a new neighbor moved onto our street a few months ago, she commented on how our cozy cul-de-sac is somewhat defined by the way neighbors care about Violet. It made me think about the similarity between our neighborhood and the members of the Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance. Together, organizations like Yolo Hospice, Citizens Who Care, and many others form a community that shows they care about all of the Violets in our neighborhoods and throughout Yolo County.
This network of organizations, individuals and volunteers form a safety net for our beloved seniors. Our collective work and service is more important than ever because the number of Americans who will be 65 or older is projected to double over the next several decades. Even today, the number of older Americans exceeds the total combined population of 25 states.
The latest studies show that more than one-fourth of women between the ages of 65 and 74 live alone.
In addition, the demand for elder care will be fueled by a steep rise in the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, which could nearly triple from 5 million to 14 million.
In the face of an aging population, there is a sobering reality that only two percent of all philanthropic giving in the United States is directed to senior causes. Organizations from Hawaii to Maine are quickly realizing that need will soon outpace capacity.
Citizens Who Care and Yolo Hospice are working together to change that two percent reality because we realize that not everybody is as fortunate as Violet is when it comes to maintaining health and benefiting from a strong neighborhood network. To that end, we are calling on our community partners to enhance support for their favorite nonprofit senior-serving organization. By locking arms, fostering more community collaborations, and expanding an already inclusive circle, we will help more seniors live their lives more fully . . . just like Violet.