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Grandma Never Learned to Drive

My grandmother never learned to drive. For most of her life, this was never a problem. My grandfather drove her. She lived along the bus line. She could walk to the market or the department store. In a pinch, she could take a taxi. 

After Granddad passed away, Grandma was still able to find a ride when she needed one. Family lived nearby: my dad, my brother, an uncle and me. There were church members—my sister-in-law refers to them as the Baptist Mafia—who made sure she made it to Sunday School. And any family gathering included her. Her house was on the way. She travelled with the senior choir and took trips to see the grandchildren out of state. A lifetime without driving had made her resourceful. She almost always found a ride.

Almost.

One day at work my phone rang. My dad was out of town. My uncle was ill. My brother was working. Grandma needed to get to a store that wasn’t in the shopping center across the street. Could I drive her? On that day I could not.  But I worked for organization that provided transportation. I asked if she had considered using the shopping shuttle operated by the senior center? They could pick her up at her front door. Even help her carry her packages in when she came home. I could connect her with the scheduler. . .

It was quiet on her end of the phone. “Oh, I know about the vans. But I always thought that was for old people.” 

My Grandma was 78. I don’t think she was ever got old enough to use the shopping shuttle. 

It’s been thirty years since I had that phone call with my Grandma. I still think of her every time I see one of the senior transportation buses pull up at Benjamin Rose. Grandma was able to maintain her independence throughout her life because she lived in a community that supported the idea that she should; a walkable neighborhood, with the availability of community supports that promoted health and dignity; a place where family and friends, and the Baptists, kept her connected. My Grandma never did learn to drive. And she never did ride that shopping shuttle. But she did appreciate knowing it was there for people who needed it. 

Older Americans Month

Each May, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) leads the observance of Older Americans Month. 2022’s theme, “Age My Way” emphasizes the opportunities to age in place and continue to be part of the community as we grow older. One program that helps ensure those opportunities exist is the Older Americans Act and the Title III funding that that supports a variety of community-based programs for older adults: senior centers, homecare, transportation, meal sites and home delivered meals, health and wellness programs and supports for family caregivers, to name a few. Several of the services provided by Benjamin Rose are funded in part through the Older Americans Act.  

The Older Americans Act was enacted into law in 1965, part of the era of Great Society programs that also saw the establishment of Head Start and Community Action Agencies. The OAA created an Administration on Aging at the federal level and supported the creation of state units on aging and local area agencies on aging and councils on aging that were charged with developing programs to meet the needs of older adults. By the mid 1970s, a national network of aging services agencies was in place to provide planning, coordination and funding for services tailored to the needs of local communities.  Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging has long partnered with the local Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging. And programs developed by our Center for Research and Education are used by local AAAs and state units on aging across the country. 

At the core of the Older Americans Act, is a basic belief in the value of older adults, and of the importance of locally-developed programs that meet the unique needs of the people in one community. It is the opposite of one-size-fits-all. Innovative programs, that consider the unique cultural and social needs, can be developed, nurtured, and replicated. Best practices are shared through a network of grassroots programs. Innovations in service delivery, management and program evaluation come from the communities where people are served and have a voice in their design and delivery. Diverse communities are strong communities. Ensuring that older adults remain active and involved benefits all of us.