A month-long event celebrates the unique beauty of getting older.
We live in a culture obsessed with all things new, shiny and fresh. From cell phones to vehicles, we’re encouraged at every turn to trade in the old and take home the newest model.
Sadly, this obsession extends to how we view people, as well. Youth, strength and beauty are idolized. Millions of dollars and countless hours are spent fighting the physical manifestations that inevitably accompany aging.
Yet ironically, we’ve hit a significant milestone in this country. According to the United States Census Bureau, for the first time in U.S. history, our population includes more than 50 million people age 65 and older. Whether you credit the baby boom after World War II or the fact that people today have a longer life expectancy, every state can expect an increase in the number of older residents in the coming decades.
In fact, the Census Bureau predicts that by the year 2033, people in this country age 65 and older will outnumber those 18 and younger for the first time ever.
Sounds like it’s time to start giving older folks the respect and recognition they’re due.
Although reverence and admiration for the older generation isn’t as widespread in our country as it should be, that’s not the case with other cultures. Countries like Scotland, China, India, Korea and Greece place a high value on their aging citizens. (China has even passed a law requiring adult children to visit their elderly parents, although there are questions about how that would be enforced.)
In the United States, efforts have been made to support, honor and recognize the contributions of seniors. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed National Senior Citizens Day, which is recognized every August 21.
Closer to home, Marion Senior Services (MSS) and Marion Cultural Alliance (MCA) are again partnering to highlight local seniors with Art of Aging, a month-long event that features art by area senior artists, workshops by experts on topics of interest to older residents and an exhibit of images of Marion County seniors taken by Ocala photographer Ralph Demilio. The exhibit is sponsored by the Robert Boissoneault Oncology Institute and Urology Institute of Central Florida.
Art of Aging kicks off on August 3 with a reception from 5 to 6pm at Brick City Center for the Arts, MCA’s downtown gallery, and runs through August 31. During the month, MSS will host various receptions, including donor and volunteer appreciation events, a Partner Punchbowl Party and the Gifts of Aging Series, which are educational “lunch-and-learn” events to promote healthy aging.
“The whole exhibit really is a celebration of aging, shown through art, stories and education. With the large percentage of seniors we have in Marion County, we want to focus on those important citizens. This is a generation who served our country well and is still going strong; we want to show them love and respect,” notes Jaye Baillie, executive director of MCA.
“Ralph’s large photos are the centerpiece of the exhibit,” adds Baillie. “We’ve also sent out a call to our artists over 55, some of whom are in their 80s, and invited them to bring in artwork in all different mediums, including oil paintings, acrylics, watercolors, photography and sculpture. Last year we had 35 participating artists and over 50 pieces of art.”
Although Demilio’s photographs are not for sale, all artwork by seniors is available for purchase throughout the duration of the exhibit.
Baillie mentions that Art of Aging follows the July exhibit at The Brick, Healing HeARTS, which features art created by mental health clients from nine mental health agencies using art as therapy.
“That exhibit is about using art therapy as a healing mechanism,” says Baillie, adding that the Art of Aging exhibit is a perfect example of the use of art as advocacy.
As part of the event, The Gifts of Aging Series educational lunch-and-learns are held on consecutive Wednesdays from 11:30am to 1pm at the Brick City Center for the Arts. Last year’s topics included such concerns as nutrition and preventing cancer; this year’s Gifts of Aging Series will focus on issues that promote healthy aging.
“We have four planned and they are free to the public,” notes Baillie. “Last year they were at 100 percent capacity, so there was a real demand.”
Although there’s no cost to attend The Gift of Aging Series, space is limited and RSVPs should be made to Marion Senior Services at (352) 620-3501.
Capturing Life In A Photograph
“We have over 1,000 clients total through all our services and some of those clients, as well as Marion Senior Services volunteers, are the focus of our photos this year,” notes Jennifer Martinez, executive director of MSS. “We are celebrating 45 years in 2018, so we’re hoping to have 45 pictures to capture our work through Ralph’s amazing photos.”
Martinez says that subjects are asked if they’d like to participate by being photographed, and the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
“Ralph has taken some of their photos on the transit bus, in the congregate dining areas and also individually,” she adds. “He’s so good at capturing their personalities.”
Demilio was still photographing some of his subjects at the time of this writing.
“Last year we tried to schedule all of the seniors for photos at once, but we found out that wouldn’t work,” Demilio relates. “I ended up setting appointments to meet with them individually at their convenience and that turned out to be much better.”
Although the purpose of the appointments was to take their photographs, Demilio says that each of the seniors he met with had stories to tell, and those stories made his task all the more memorable.
One gentleman in particular had many stories to tell. So many stories, in fact, that Demilio was never able to capture his posed image. But what he did shoot turned out to be one of the most talked-about photos in last year’s display.
As the man told stories of his deceased wife, he held out old pictures of her to show Demilio, who froze the moment forever in an image that resonated with viewers at the exhibit.
“That one photo of his hands holding her pictures turned out to be the ‘big’ picture at the exhibit,” recalls Demilio, “and it was a photo I took right before I walked out the door from visiting with him.”
Helping Those In Need
For those who receive assistance through MSS or are part of the volunteer team working tirelessly on its programs, it’s no mystery how valuable the agency is to our community.
Yet many people are unaware of how much this non-profit, charitable social agency does for the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged of Marion County. The Art of Aging event is an effective way to help educate people about MSS.
“We help clients remain living independently in their own homes as long as possible by providing meals, transit and in-home support services,” notes Martinez.
The agency began as a volunteer-based program delivering meals to the homebound in 1973.
Over the years, grants, private and donor funding have allowed MSS to evolve into a service provider that helps those in need, even if they are unable to pay. (Services are provided on a sliding fee basis from no-cost to full-pay, depending on the individual’s income.)
More than 300 volunteers work with MSS to help deliver Meals on Wheels and provide respite care and companionship for MSS clients.
“Every month, we get shipments of commodities, and we distribute this food to clients who are in need of more than just the one meal a day that is provided through Meals on Wheels,” says Martinez. “Our volunteers come in and help us pack up this food, which is distributed throughout the week.”
MSS is also the designated community transportation coordinator providing public paratransit service to elderly, disabled and low-income people throughout the county.
Marion Transit provides public transportation to all people in our service area (Marion County, FL); however, it is designed to maximize usage by transportation disadvantaged people in general.
Marion County residents who are unable to drive or who do not have family or friends to transport them may be eligible to ride with Marion Transit.
“Transit is a lifeline to many who wouldn’t have access to the outside world otherwise. Vital medical appointments, grocery shopping and some recreational activities allow our clients to remain active participants in our community,” says Martinez.
Art of Aging Exhibit
August 3 – 31
- Brick City Center for the Arts
- 23 SW Broadway Street, Ocala
- Opening Reception
August 3, 5-6pm
- Exhibit may be viewed
- Tuesday-Friday, 11am-5pm, and Saturday, 11am-4pm.
- There is no admission charge to the gallery.
For more information about the Art of Aging exhibit, call Marion Cultural Alliance at (352) 369-1500 or Marion Senior Services at (352) 620-3501.
To learn more about programs offered by Marion Senior Services and to apply or get involved as a volunteer, visit the website at marionseniorservices.org or call (352) 620-3501.