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Baltimore Nonprofits Prepare for Aging Boomers

Ted Gross, Director of Senior Services GEDCO. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Ted Gross, Director of Senior Services GEDCO. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Lifelong Dundalk resident Karen Cruz loves her community.

For the past 13 years, Cruz has been president of the Eastfield Stanbrook Civic Association. The Baltimore Community Foundation and Dundalk Renaissance Corp. selected her and 19 other older adults to build community pride and civic engagement in Dundalk through community activities.

Cruz, 58, works the phone from her home, most recently organizing a clean up of Lynch Cove Run stream in Dundalk, which netted more than 100 volunteers. This keeps Cruz active since she says she couldn’t return to work after 17 years at AT&T once she underwent several joint replacement surgeries.

"It's a closer community as a result," Cruz says of volunteering. "I'd feel older if I wasn't involved."

Programs that keep older adults and seniors busy through civic engagement offer a low-cost way of keeping people like Cruz healthy and active. They will become increasingly critical as Baltimore's boomers of today become the community's aging population of tomorrow. In 2000, 15 percent of Marylanders were over 60. By 2030, that percentage will jump to 25.1 percent, according to US Census data.

While some seniors remain active and healthy well into old age, many face constraints like failing health, decreased mobility, and a fixed income -- burdens requiring resources that will further strain an already financially stressed local government. By laying the foundation for cost-effective ways to keep older adults socially engaged, mobile, and independent as long as possible, local nonprofits are paving the way for a smoother transition when Baltimore's boomers age.

Many of these nonprofits discussed some of these ideas at a recent Senior Life Leadership Summit sponsored by the Associated.

"A lot of people are aware that Baltimore is an area that needs some re-focus and re-integration of services," says Judah L. Ronch, dean of University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Erickson School, which studies aging.

Civic engagement to boost health

Mounting evidence shows that older adults who remain active and interact with others reap health benefits, including improved memory and physical fitness, says Dr. Jeremy Barron, a Johns Hopkins Hospital geriatrician. Maintaining health and independence reduces the burden on the health care system, he says.

"Older people are looking for ways to fill up their time," Barron says.

"They [older adults] represent an incredible amount of talent and skill," says Kevin Griffin Moreno, senior program manager at Baltimore Community Foundation, which last spring launched Neighbors in Deed, a $1 million initiative to promote civic engagement among Baltimore area adults 55 and up via neighborhood-based volunteer activities.

"It's about recognizing the leadership that's always been there," says Moreno, referring to the scores of skilled older adults -- like Cruz -- who already engaged in volunteer positions of leadership in their communities. 

Bartering for rides

As science and common sense show, civic engagement keeps older people young longer. When older people aren't mobile, isolation sets in. A unique service is filling in some transportation gaps for older adults in various pockets of the state where public transit is lacking.

Pasadena’s Partners in Care provides an average of 125 rides per week to residents of Anne Arundel, Frederick and Calvert Counties.

Launched in 1993 by three women, including former Pentagon staffer Barbara Huston, the organization's 2,400 members provide volunteer services for aging community members. In return, they get "credit", which they can use when and if they need a favor in return.

The barter system is based on the concept of time banking, in which volunteers "bank" their efforts in exchange for assistance as they see fit. In a resource-strapped economy, advocates say it offers a practical solution to needs such as transportation (to and from medical appointments, errands, and social engagements), handiwork around the house, and other services.

"There's not always enough money to provide support, but social capital exists," says Tedd Gross, director of senior services for Govans Ecumenical Development Corp.

Govans Ecumenical also relies on time banking at its affordable housing units in Baltimore where residents assist one another by cooking meals, offering rides and hosting classes in jewelry making.

Nursing home's new look

Even with transportation assistance, many older adults reach a point where they can no longer live independently.

Operators of assisted living facilities are building housing that gives more control to residents and look more like a home – and less like an institution. As boomers age and needs for assisted living increase, this model will likely become more common, aging experts say.

Govans Ecumenical is building the $12 million Green House Residences at Stadium Place, to open in April in Waverly.

Each self-contained floor will house only 12 older adults, each of whom will have their own bedroom and bathroom. The center of the floor, referred to as "cottages", will be the hearth -- a combination living room, kitchen and dining room in an open floor plan.

Financed with state and city money and private philanthropy, Stadium Place will be operated by Catholic Charities. The nonprofit will hire and train staff to serve as "universal care workers," cooking meals, doing laundry and, Gross hopes, build positive relationships with the residents.

Based on a model similar to Stadium Place's concept, a new $31 million wing will open next month at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.

Employing the "social model" of elder care, it gives residents a choice in their daily decisions, unlike most nursing homes that require residents to wake, dress, and eat at prescribed times.

"If they wake up at 11, that's when they'll get their medicines," says Levindale's director of guest relations Heather Allen. "It's allowing residents to live the way they do at home."

Elizabeth Heubeck lives in Baltimore with her husband and two children. She has written for WebMD, USA Today.com, the Baltimore Business Journal and Newsweek.

Photo Captions

Ted Gross, director of senior services, Govans Ecumenical Development Corp.

Lunch time at Stadium Place. Photo by Arianne Teeple.

Green House Residences. Photo by Arianne Teeple.

Green House Residences. Photo by Arianne Teeple.

Green House Residences Hearth. Courtesy of Govans Ecumenical Development Corp.

Green House Residences Stadium Place Perspective. Courtesy of Govans.
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