Senior wellness programming is about more than health screenings and info sessions. While these are important, the depth and breadth of senior services offered can transform retirement into a time of contribution and connection.

Born out of their commitment to community involvement, Dallas’ Methodist Health System operates the Methodist Generations, Senior Services program for people over age 55. The program offers a wide variety of services, each laying the foundation for an engaged and active experience for older adults. Jerri Locke, Director of Healthy Aging for Methodist Health System, shares that membership in the no-annual-fee program is approaching 70,000.

According to Jerri, a portion of the program is aimed at “keeping [older adults] out of the hospital… and keeping them engaged.” But it is important to note that the essence of the program goes deeper than that. Jerri explains that members experience a “connection that you can make that you wouldn’t have if all you were doing was going to the grocery store and seeing somebody… they are eating together and spending an hour-and-a-half getting to know each other.”

With Generations members being invited into so many activities, engagement goes beyond a shared meal. Members enjoy drawing & watercolor basics, mindful movement, Tai Chi, meditation, memoir writing, and Nia, a fusion of simple moves combining dance, martial arts, and healing arts. Among others, these opportunities are an invitation to stay active - mentally, physically, and socially.

With this comprehensive offering, transportation is a central theme to the program’s success and relevance. Generations members receive free parking for Generations events and discounted parking at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. Jerri reports that this is one of the most valued Generations member benefits. Recently, Jonathan Braddick, the Texas Community Development Manager supporting the AARP Ride@50+ Program, visited Generations. Presenting about the AARP Ride@50+ Program , powered by Feonix - Mobility Rising, he spoke with an audience interested in finding alternatives to driving when the time comes for them to consider limiting or stopping driving.

Jerri finds alignment in the missions and initiatives shared by Jonathan with the Generations Program. Speaking of collaborators, she states that “if we didn’t have [collaborators like the AARP Ride@50+ Program], we couldn’t do half of what we do.” Looking beyond the collaboration between organizations, Jerri sees an opportunity for Generations members to not only receive services from a program such as the AARP Ride @50+ Program, but also to contribute as volunteer drivers. Jerri notes that many members “are not prepared” for retirement after working demanding careers. She finds that, often, retirees need to explore ways to add value to their community and build new relationships.

For a time, Coronavirus (COVID-19)-related restrictions have shifted Generations events into the virtual world. Until healthcare recommendations allow for more person-to-person contact, online programming will be a vital link to the outside world for those who are most vulnerable to the virus. Jerri has discovered a few surprises in this transition: “People who were members and have moved away are tuning in from [elsewhere] People who work and aren’t usually able to visit during the week can now attend.” Additionally, offering mindful movement in this virtual format three times a week means people can join multiple times from their homes.

Recently the program offered an online class entitled “Why Are Those with Diabetes More Susceptible to Coronavirus?” The session provided members access to a medical professional offering medical advice without a filter or a slant. “It benefits the audience because of the information, but also it benefits to know a doctor’s name for future needs. And so it benefits the doctors, too,” shares Jerri.

Continued collaboration will be a cornerstone of future progress. Whether online or in-person, the success of programming will lie in efforts to shorten the distance between the needs of persons over age 55 and the communities awaiting their participation and contribution.

The people of Washtenaw County, Michigan, have been working for years to meet the transportation-related needs of their communities. Organizations and individuals have collaborated to tackle issues such as accessibility, affordability, and reliability to help move their neighbors where they need to go. To help meet the goal of enhanced transportation access for older adults, AARP Driver Safety is launching the AARP Ride@50+ Program , powered by Feonix – Mobility Rising, in Washtenaw County.

As the number of adults 65 or older increases, it is essential to have age-friendly transportation systems in place that support an engaged lifestyle for people of all ages. The United States Census Bureau reports that 14.5% of Washtenaw County residents are 65 years and older.1 The AARP Ride@50+ Program will help empower older adults to access and determine the best transportation options to meet their needs.

To ensure countywide needs are met, groups from within Ann Arbor and beyond have been building relationships and learning from area leaders as to how the AARP Ride@50+ Program should be implemented. By enlisting contributors from county communities such as Chelsea, Milan, Manchester, Saline, and Ypsilanti, the Program will help provide access to extensive support to regions beyond Ann Arbor. With fewer options for transportation in the more remote areas, making the trip to Ann Arbor for necessary medical care and social services creates a disadvantage that must be solved.

Rachel Kosla, the Michigan Community Development Manager supporting the AARP Ride@50+ Program is a lifelong Washtenaw County resident and is motivated by a deep love for the community and a passionate commitment to advocacy. Rachel shares that "ever since I was a child, I've questioned the status quo and asked how we can create a society that values and supports all of its members." Balancing this ferocity with an open mind and heart, Rachel recognizes that people are the "experts of their own experiences." Rachel works equally as hard for change as she does to honor individual voices and needs.

In preparation for this role, Rachel worked in Ann Arbor as a Mobility Innovation Manager, focused on creating and implementing disability awareness training for the transportation community. Rachel has a professional and educational background in social work. Previously, she worked with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (AACIL) as a Disability Awareness Workshop Co-Coordinator. Her work in community organizing allows her to identify needs, solution-based technologies, and critical relationships that solve area challenges for residents of Washtenaw County.

Passengers interested in using the AARP Ride@50+ Program can access 15-minute online training programs designed to simplify using the platform. Additional in-person workshops will be available as health and safety guidelines allow.

Real transportation solutions involve learning, listening, and responding to resident needs. The introduction of the AARP Ride@50+ Program in Washtenaw County will help pave the way for a lifetime of mobility, independence, and fun.