This year, the theme for Older Americans Month 2024 in May, hosted annually by the U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL), is Powered by Connection. According to ACL, the 2024 theme:

“…recognizes the profound impact that meaningful relationships and social connections have on our health and well-being. We will explore the vital role that connectedness plays in supporting independence and aging in place by combatting isolation, loneliness, and other issues.”

For many organizations serving older adults and/or championing issues related to aging, Older Americans Month is a time to highlight their programs, and often gain local support by encouraging local and regional elected officials to issue proclamations. In fact, ACL provides tools and templates to do just that.

Every year, Changing the Narrative has taken a slightly different tack. We’ve used the occasion of Older Americans Month to elevate our overall mission to end ageism. And we’ve done it by tying our mission to the theme. Last year, for example, the theme was “Aging Unbound.” We ran a social media campaign featuring influencers from around the U.S. and beyond answering the question on video:

“What would it look like if aging was unbound by ageism?

This approach gained us a lot of attention to our issue, while highlighting others who are focused on this important work.

How do we do this? And how can you use the theme of Powered by Connection to gain attention for your mission and programs?

I was thrilled when my friend and colleague Diana Miller asked me to join her at a roundtable session for last week’s American Society on Aging conference on Reinventing Older Americans Month 2024. Our goal? To gather the wisdom of of those in the room on how we could approach the 2024 theme so that attendees:

  • Could elevate their organizations and the issues they address
  • Go beyond government proclamations to meaningful engagement with elected officials and other community leaders

Given the 8:00 a.m. hour, both Diana and I were surprised by the crowd of over 40 that assembled in the tiny conference room.

Coming up with ideas for Powered by Connection

Placed in small groups of three people each, participants were asked to brainstorm: What ideas do YOU have for using the Powered by Connection theme in your community? So many ideas and themes emerged! (Diana’s idea to offer coffee at our early session helped, I’m sure.)

Organized by topic area—somewhat—here’s what participants came up with in the short 15-minute activity:

CONNECT with Inclusion in Mind

  1. Don’t exclude those who may not be computer savvy.
  2. Ensure all materials are language and culturally appropriate.
  3. Provide anti-ageism training before the month, so that participants don’t get locked into “sad senior, decline and deterioration” storylines.

CONNECT and Engage Community

  1. Bring volunteers together to reach out to older adults who are isolated
  2. Hosting lunch with Board members and have board members deliver meals
  3. Partner with farmers’ markets and churches in rural areas.
  4. Set up “conversation tables” with topic cards to encourage dialogue.
  5. Designate benches through the community with signs inviting conversation.
  6. Encourage local restaurants and food hubs to provide community tables with discounts for food
  7. Use public libraries as gathering places. They are a trusted resource.

CONNECT Across Generations

  1. Partner senior centers with high schools and colleges to host generational oral history projects
  2. Host an intergenerational community prom with a photo booth and dancing
  3. Connect older and younger people for reciprocal mentoring
  4. Create videos a la Story Corps with a younger person and an older person having an intergenerational conversation on the power of connection.
  5. Partner with local schools, highlighting an older adult in their life or community

CONNECT around Art and Culture

  1. Host performances, artwork, and communal art projects created around the theme of Older Americans Month.
  2. Partner senior centers with schools or community groups to create art projects that involve older Americans, potentially for display or as part of a broader recognition event.
  3. CreatE an art project for Older Americans Month, connecting aging services organizations, the arts council, aging committees, and local high schools.
  4. Make shirts and other merchandise with messages that can be distributed or sold as a means of spreading the campaign’s message.
  5. Host book club discussions with books featuring older protagonists 

CONNECT with Senior Centers & Other Organizations Serving Older Adults

While many of the ideas generated could be offered by and through senior centers, some ideas generated were very directed towards organizations serving older adults in the community:

  1. Hosting and announcing open houses at all the senior centers throughout the community, and distributing posters everywhere to let people know about the events
  2. Interview older adults to tell their stories about how connecting with senior centers brought happiness and friendship back into their lives.
  3. Using senior centers as a hub for creating videos that share memories and connections between older adults and others in the community.

CONNECT with Government & Community Leaders

  1. Ask the Mayor or top elected official in the jurisdiction to kick off Older American Month with a media conference, announcing Older American Month events throughout the community.
  2. Hold an advocacy rally at City Hall and before meetings of elected representatives.
  3. Invite elected officials to connect and participate in events.
  4. Host a lunch with organization board members, older adults and elected officials
  5. Host a panel with retirees, highlighting wisdom gained and obtaining personal stories to share with local officials. 

Amplify CONNECTION on Social Media

Finally, participants had LOTS OF ideas to use social media to engage the community, spread awareness, and encourage broader participation in Older Americans Month, including:

  1. Use the theme of “powered up by connection,” to create awareness of the digital divide
  2. Create memes, showing connected and empowered older adults.
  3. Launch a “what does powered by connection mean to me?” sign campaign (note: this could also be done as photos within individual organizations)
  4. Produce web videos to post on social media, such as those capturing memories and connections with an older adult or featuring intergenerational conversations.
  5. Interview older adults about their positive experiences with senior centers to share on social media.
  6. Host a statewide webinar to share all of these ideas with partners and possibly stream it on social media platforms.
  7. Use local celebrities and influencers to record 10-second spots about the theme to post on social media. And Kansas City was represented in the room, with its delegation suggesting that the Super Bowl Champions Kansas City Chiefs be used to bring awareness of the month.

Picture of End Ageism friendship bracelet for Older Americans Month 2024: Powered by ConnectionThis last idea prompted me to suggest to the group that perhaps a certain member of the Chiefs might mention it to Taylor Swift. My longtime dream? That Taylor Swift take up the cause of ending ageism!

I even made Ending Ageism friendship bracelets while watching The Eras Tour with my daughter that I distributed at the ASA conference.

What ideas do you have for Older Americans Month 2024? Share them in the comments.

Janine Vanderburg is the co-founder of Changing the Narrative, a leading U.S. campaign to end ageism, and led the campaign from its inception through March 2023, when she stepped back to a part-time role. She is the CEO of Encore Roadmap, which consults with businesses and brands on how to become more age-inclusive, and offers workshops and resources for encore seekers of any age. You can reach out to Janine on LinkedIn.

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