by Susan Kocen.
Celebrating the new Q Center website being launched goes hand in hand with the 6 month anniversary of the new *eRa* program here at Q. Funded this initial 11 months by the Americorps Oregon State Services Corps, the position of coordinator began on September 10th and will continue in this form through July.
Building a community of elders here at Q Center has been only wonderful and extraordinarily meaningful to me and to those who have attended the events, programs and groups. I arrived at Q with a newly minted MA in Gerontological Studies and was keen to work with the elder population out of appreciation for their(our) longevity, their(our) story and their(our) journeys. The presence of Gay & Grey across the river on NW Thurman was a terrific place to start collegially, to find out what already existed, what might be missing from services to elder LGBT folk and to see what we might also build together. Lauren Fontanarosa has been an important friend, resource and guide as *eRa* at Q got off the ground.
What emerged from the research and questionnaires I carried out in the early weeks of the program was the central desire for interesting things to do, attend and participate in with “socializing” key to anything that was requested. In a population that may find they are isolating at times in our ageist and homophobic world getting out and about and into community is vital and terrific. Q Center creates the perfect space for this. In studies of aging it is well known that meeting our social needs is a leading factor to a sense of wellness in our later years. Socializing provides for both physical and mental well-being, giving self-esteem, interesting interaction, the creation of connection and the value of continued participation in community activities etc. (Keen, 2007; Hughes et al, 2011; Lomas, 2013). Also as older LGBT folk are more likely to be single, more likely to live alone and more likely to have no children creating events and groups together that would be interesting and inspiring for folk to attend was central to *eRa*’s fledgling flight.
I hosted several meet and greets in early October, opportunities to come together and chat over coffee about what might lie ahead. I ran a questionnaire for several weeks, attended as many groups as I could at Q center that worked with or were formed around issues of aging in community. I spread the word that I was here and the *eRa* program was beginning, and that input was important from whoever had something to share.
And as word got out networking began. I spoke with organizations and agencies in the community, finding out what was available through their programs. Hearing from them allowed me to see what might be missing from what was offered. What has gradually emerged is a social-educational-informative-communal program that is just beginning, extending roots and shoots in many future directions.
In November *eRa* hosted a fantastic, gourmet pot-luck Thanksgiving Lunch on Thanksgiving Day. Co-created with Gay & Grey, 16 of us gathered and shared our meal of thankfulness, enjoying the first of hopefully many on-going holiday gatherings for those who have lived a few more years than others.
Currently we are in the midst of our ongoing 6-week series of Narrative Groups, the fourth of these groups began in early March. These groups provide an opportunity to story our lives, meet one another deeply and discover talents for writing that many did not know they had. Testimonials from the groups speak of the delight in finding that within one’s life stories are lessons and events that get lost in the journey, that when rediscovered and given focus new insights emerge that inform and deepen the experience of current life and perhaps even guide the times ahead.
Since December *eRa* has been hosting weekly luncheons on Thursdays. The simple meals are provided by Meals on Wheels, but the amazing conversations are provided by attendees; conversations I must add that follow many trajectories and landscapes, stories and news of the week, and typically keep us all glued to our seats for over an hour each week.
*eRa* also has its own intergenerational book group. Once a month a group of readers, myself and librarian extraordinaire Ismoon Maria Hunter-Morton gather to discuss LGBT literature, alternating classics and more recent publications and welcoming all ages to learn and explore together.
In February 2013 a weekly Tai Chi for Better Balance class began – 12 weeks of learning the 8 forms of this reduced but practical and balance-based version of the ancient movement meditation Tai Chi. We have the seasoned and terrific movement and fitness specialist Patt Dolan volunteering to teach this course, leading us, directing us and at the end of the session cooling us down with gentle relaxation stretches and valuable techniques of breathing and centering.
Early December 2012 saw our first “Speed-meet-and-greet” afternoon, a two hour opportunity for swift and entertaining conversation amongst and between all those who attended. Late March 2013 we shall host our second event of this type, opportunity to meet one another, drink coffee, eat baked goods.
In December 2012, *eRa* and Face2Face facilitators hosted a forum on Ageism in the LGBT community. Titled ‘Let’s talk about Age Baby: Let’s talk about you and me’ the event brought together more than 50 participants ranging in age from 22 to late 70’s, giving voice to may speakers, ideas and opinions. What emerged from this discussion was not only our gift of diversity within our experiences but also our gift of community, our care for, interest in and vision for our aging journey ahead. Younger participants spoke of wanting to know their elders better, wanting to hear more of their stories and experiences. And older participants spoke of their willingness to support those younger than them as they could, and also their delight in being witnessed and appreciated by those who are walking the path that was laid down by their courageous footsteps. Many things that had been unknown on both sides of the aging spectrum were brought to attention, with agreement on all sides that there needs to be further conversation, meeting and forum in coming times.
One result of this December forum was the participation of County and State government representatives on the evening of the December forum, officials who used what they learned there as the basis for another conversation *eRa* and Gay & Grey hosted at Q Center on March 12th, 2013 concerning Long Term Care needs and issues specific to the LGBT community. 30 people attended this forum/conversation and representatives from Washington and Multnomah counties, State government and local agencies, listened to multiple points of view and ideas that were brought forward during those two hours. Feedback from county and state has been exceptionally grateful, and looks forward to more input from community and further meetings and conversations to develop and deepen ideas already formulated.
So what is ahead for *eRa*?
In summer 2013, on June 1st we will have the “Be the Star You Are” Senior Prom, a grand celebration of all things PRIDE, all things community and all things living a longer life brings to our world. Several groups are beginning to appear, stemming from individual conversations and connections and emerging from groups *eRa* already hosts at Q Center. A men’s conversation group is in its early stages of creation as is a monthly conversation group on issues of Aging. Ideas of health awareness groups are being tossed around, and History/Political conversation groups are a possibility too. A Theatrical performance in July is also being considered. If you imagine a group you would like to run/facilitate, please let me know.
Wherever *eRa* is headed I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to create this awesome program with everyone in community. To meet and work with and amongst an inspiring group of wonderful people is a terrific privilege. I notice that I am full of hyperbole today, realizing that I feel deeply lucky to be at Q Center, I look forward to the coming season and months ahead with all of you.
Hughes, A. K., Harold, R. D., & Boyer, J. M. (2011). Awareness of LGBT Aging Issues Among Aging Services Network Providers. Journal Of Gerontological Social Work, 54(7), 659-677.
Kean, R. (2006). Understanding the lives of older gay people. Nursing Older People, 18(8), 31-36.
Lomas, C. (2013). ‘IT IS GREAT HAVING SOMEWHERE TO SOCIALISE WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE’. Nursing Standard, 27(23), 20-21.
If you are interested in writing for QBlog’s Queer Voices program, please send an email with a sample of your work to QBlog@pdxQcenter.org