Betty Jean Cox, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, teaches art and jewelry-making classes at the Urban League’s senior center and is a member of the County’s Aging Services Advisory Council.
Phu Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese Senior Association of Oregon for 16 years, teaches Vietnamese language classes and takes Tai chi and yoga classes.
George Hocker Jr. likens himself to a perennial plant, sure to return. He has retired five times, from five careers, but just keeps coming back for more.
Cox and Nguyen, 77, and Hocker, 78, represent the many vital older adults who live, work and volunteer in Multnomah County.
They were honored during Thursday’s meeting of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners as part of the board’s annual adoption of a proclamation recognizing May as Older Americans Month. This year’s theme is “Engage at Every Age.”
“I think this is just a small example of what older adults do in and for the community,” said Commissioner Loretta Smith, who sponsored the proclamation. “You all are my examples...of what the community can be when you involve everyone from the top to the bottom.”
Older Americans Month is an opportunity to both celebrate the experiences of and elevate the issues facing older adults in our community, said Rebecca Miller, planning and development specialist in the Aging, Disability and Veterans Services Division of the Department of County Human Services.
“Older adults are redefining aging out of desire and out of necessity. They work to survive and thrive,” Miller said. “They provide billions of dollars worth of caregiving for spouses and grandchildren and friends. They’re actively involved in their faith communities. They’re learning new skills and passing along their experiences to new generations.”
At the same time, many older adults still face food insecurity and poor nutrition, social isolation, financial fraud, chronic illness and a lack of affordable and accessible transportation and housing, Miller said.
“May brings an opportunity to honor the complexity in their lives,” Miller said. “It’s an opportunity to shine a light on their continued contributions and, of course, the issues we need to address together.”
As part of the Older Americans Act initiative, ADVSD works with nonprofits and community partners to promote home and community-based services that support independent living; involve older adults in community planning, events, advocacy, and other activities; and provide opportunities for older adults to work, volunteer, learn, lead, and mentor.
Recent efforts to better the quality of life for older adults include improved emergency response, more library outreach and programming, transportation advocacy, and coordination across aging and behavioral health systems.
The County’s work to ensure an age-friendly environment also is internal.
One-third of Multnomah County’s workforce was born prior to 1965. Twelve percent of the County’s regular employees are eligible for retirement now and 35 percent will be eligible by 2022.
Nationally, older adults are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. One in five workers today is older than 55. One quarter of workers will fit that description by 2024.
“Last month, on April 20, I celebrated three wonderful years as public advocate for Commissioner Smith, who hired me 20 days after my fifth retirement,” said Hocker, who has worked in federal government, business and even as a member of the clergy. “I have been engaged at every age and plan to continue as long as God will allow me to serve.”
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said older adults are a vital part of the community.
“The experiences that they bring to all of the issues that we’re facing is really the key to success in addressing the issues and really solving the problems,” Vega Pederson said.