We are strong! We are invincible! We are seniors! If you remember Helen Reddy, you will now have that song stuck in your head all day (you’re welcome). Seniors in the Roaring Fork Valley are a force with which to be reckoned. Don’t believe me? Look around. At the public meetings, teaching on the slopes, in public office, leading longtime local corporations, retail businesses and nonprofits (or sitting on their boards), in the hospitals and private practices, contractors, laborers, drivers and most every other category of employment. The representative intelligence, artistic ability, physical labor and accomplishments on the local, state and national levels of the older population is matched only by their passion and overall contributions to our Roaring Fork community — both financially and in time served (not the jail kind).
Stop rolling your eyes. Whether recognized or not, the age 55-plus generation, of which I am a member, are a large and valued part of the Roaring Fork Valley fabric.
Speaking of the numbers: There are more than 6,800 registered voters over the age of 65 in Pitkin and western Eagle County (Basalt and El Jebel). That surprises most people with whom I share that statistic (maybe because we are more fit and youthful than seniors in most of the country). There are another 725 residents over age 65 in Carbondale.
Between 2001 and 2017, the over-65 population in the Roaring Fork Valley grew by more than 16,000. In Basalt, 56 percent of the growth during this time was in the over-65 group. Aspen/Snowmass’ population over age 65 grew by 86 percent during that time.
Take your tweets and hashtags and think about what these “older” (meaning older than you) members of the community contribute to our local economies and the issues of housing, transportation and healthcare.
And by the way, the numbers of residents over 65 is projected to increase by another 30 percent over the next 10 years. We are here, growing by leaps and bounds and planning to stay … and as employers and community members, you better show some concern and hope we do.
We did not inherit the land or use a trust fund to purchase our homes — deed-restricted or not. We worked for our wages (some more than two jobs), saved a few dollars and purchased (or swapped for) our little piece of paradise. Yes, it was less expensive then, but don’t blame us because we were smart enough to buy low and sell high (the monetary kind). We also did not have the detrimental guiding forces of elected officials who bought their own little patch and have turned into NIMBYs — lucky us.
We are the employees who have had the same job with the same employer for over 10, 20, 30, even 40 years. We get to work on time (and I am not talking Aspen-time) and in a condition that is well-rested and eager to work! We are loyal and responsible and won’t leave just because the clock says 5 (or 3). We are ethical, trustworthy and are not Snapchatting, posting or texting the day away (except some Mid-Valley officials). Not to point fingers, but we were just brought up differently, in a time where hard work was rewarded with recognition, respect was something earned and following the law was a given. Some of us even work tirelessly for free, aka: volunteering.
One hundred twenty seven million dollars … that’s $127 million. That is the economic contribution of older adults in just Pitkin County for 2017. (The numbers for the western Eagle County are difficult to extrapolate, so we won’t even guess at them, for now.) When I presented that number at a recent meeting, it was challenged by people saying that it’s because the older population makes a lot of donations (which they do!), but that’s only a small part of the equation. The $127 million (almost $128 million, but what’s a million here or there?) is for paid (wages for part- and full-time work) and unpaid (volunteering and acting as caregivers to children, adults, family and friends) work. For the skeptics and naysayers, take out the unpaid figures and just the “paid” wages amount to $92,924,506. Impressive for a group of community members that are referenced as retirees, seniors, geezers, too old, too mature and old-and-gray. If this is what is considered “over-the-hill,” the grass is looking awfully green over here.
Then there is wisdom — gained knowledge and experience. Why isn’t the Mid-Valley community listening to this wealth of insight, good judgment and good sense, based on years of living in this Valley and surviving the economies, climate conditions and politics that chased out the faint-of-heart?
Where are the intergenerational programs, enjoyed by youth and aging populations all over the country, to pass this wisdom along? Where are the innovative solutions, being practiced in other parts of Colorado, pairing the older population with young families for their mutual benefit across several social challenges? Where is a local government that asks for context and guidance, from those who came before, in advance of spending taxpayer dollars on “spin professionals?” These are real issues and it is time to address them.
Don’t count us out. The success of your Mid-Valley communities depends on us.
Mary Kenyon has been working with Pitkin County Senior Services and Eagle County Healthy Aging over the past five years and is continuously advocating for the increase of opportunities for the older populations in the areas of housing, transportation, meals, employment and access to resources. Email her your ideas and solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org