Boomers will 'age differently,' Avenidas director says

Agency seeks more space as it braces for building wave of seniors

A "boot camp on aging" for Baby Boomers is under consideration at Avenidas as the senior services agency braces for a spike in the area's senior population.

The downtown Palo Alto nonprofit, a gathering spot for retirees, fields several calls a week from entrepreneurs looking to test their startup products on real live old people.

Executive Director Lisa Hendrickson said she tries to accommodate the startups whenever she can, figuring that new products and services related to aging could only help as the Baby Boom generation morphs into a Senior Boom.

"This work, in whatever small way, is going to support development of some great stuff that's going to be fun and helpful to us," Hendrickson said.

By "us" Hendrickson means herself and the rest of the Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 and now turning 65 in the United States at the rate of 10,000 a day. In Palo Alto, fully one-third of the population already is 55 and older, and the proportion of elders is growing.

Boomers will age differently than previous generations, predicts Hendrickson, a former banker who moved to the nonprofit world in mid-career and is now pondering her next professional phase. After 15 years at the helm of Avenidas she recently announced plans to step down and spend at least the next year managing a capital campaign to upgrade and expand the agency's facilities.

The current facility — Palo Alto's historic fire and police building on Bryant Street — is "bursting at the seams," she said.

"Baby Boomers are going to want way more choice — we always have — and we're going to expect services to be available to us because we've always had them available to us."

Hendrickson expects Boomers to demand — and invent — new solutions, just as they did when their now-adult children were infants and they confronted a shortage of child care. "Those of us who found that to be such a problem got involved, and child care options started to surface.

"I believe the same is going to be true for elder care to support Baby Boomers finding themselves dealing with family caregiver challenges," she said.

As more adults in their 40s and 50s find themselves caring for their parents due to longer lifespans, Hendrickson has noticed a growing — and earlier — awareness of concerns related to aging.

"I think people are finally 'getting it,'" she said. Caring for parents has "opened people's eyes to the issues and is also causing them to become planners. They say, 'We don't want our kids to go through what we went through.'

"It's better to have resources in place and identified ahead of time than to be operating in a crisis. To the extent we can help people plan and anticipate, we're doing more and more of that."

With social workers and information specialists on staff, Avenidas is better equipped than most traditional city-sponsored senior centers to help people navigate the housing, financial and health challenges presented by their parents' aging — or their own, she said.

Hendrickson credits decisions made decades ago to establish the agency as an independent nonprofit rather than as a Palo Alto city department, as well as a strategy of charging fees for many services rather than offering them free to all. Fees now generate 30 percent of Avenidas's $4.2 million budget.

"We keep them low and try to keep them low enough that almost everybody can afford them, and we also give away a lot of services, too, at no cost," she said. "But the fee revenue from charging from some services has made it possible for us to continue to grow. There are senior centers that are low- or no-cost everywhere in the country, and they're struggling because they don't have that valuable source of revenue from those who can afford it."

A woman's bequest of her house to Avenidas two decades ago sparked establishment of an endowment, which has been built up over the years and now generates nearly a quarter of the agency's budget. City support — 30 percent of the budget when the agency opened in 1978 — is down to 10 percent.

But the "secret sauce" of Avenidas is the engagement and diversity of seniors themselves, she said.

"You could be playing chess or fall into a conversation over a cup of coffee with a retired doctor or a retired Stanford professor or a retired postal worker — you just never know. One common denominator in general is that it's a very well-educated population, and the growth of our programming is a result of that."

Avenidas instituted Mandarin classes recently after a group of English-speaking seniors said they wanted to study the language.

"These are folks who are full of life, interesting and interested, and want to engage and learn, and we try to be responsive," she said.

Client demand has driven the closure of some programs, such as a traditional crafts shop, and the opening of others, like Avenidas Village, a seven-year-old, membership-funded program to support seniors who want to age in their own homes.

In her bid for more space, Hendrickson said she hopes to expand and upgrade at the current Bryant Street location but also will consider satellite venues in southern Palo Alto or elsewhere.

"The next challenge is going to be to take appropriate action and try to get ahead of this demographic change," she said.

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Like this comment
Posted by A-Different-View
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2014 at 9:55 am

With the emergence of the Internet, which can link people, and places, all over the world together in the clink of a button--why would people not want to age using the Internet to learn new things, travel to new places, and meet new people --rather than the approach advocated by these folks?

Even if someone doesn't have an Internet connection in their home (which is hard to believe here in Palo Alto), every coffee shop, and library, has free serive. (And hopefully one of these days there will be a Silicon Valley wireless network for everyone to use.)

People can play chess, video visit, make an audio connection or do just about anything that comes to mind--at home, or anywhere in the world. The idea that people need to congregate in a single place has been radically altered--and it's very likely that the so called "boomers", many of whom helped to create the digital revolution that has swept the world, will see the digital world as their's to travel in, unlike times of old--when people were expected to sit in rocking chairs and do as little as possible.

Like this comment
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 5, 2014 at 10:49 am

this is all well and good. obviously, there is a need for affordable housing for seniors. this is a stand-out facility and resource for those who go there and use it. best wishes. it's not perfect but it needs to be supported and endorsed across the board. thanks

Like this comment
Posted by Money, money
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 5, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Avenidas can hope for money from the aging Boomers and also from the startups, some of which will make money.
Cool move.

Like this comment
Posted by Another Different View
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 5, 2014 at 1:10 pm

"Avenidas she recently announced plans to step down and spend at least the next year managing a capital campaign to upgrade and expand the agency's facilities"..." Bryant Street — is "bursting at the seams,"but Avenidas refuses to update their "50's" model of being open 9-5, M-F... they need to modernize there business model. The executive's of this organization are so out of touch. They could increase their capacity to serve the community and engage younger "boomers" by being open some evenings and weekends with exercises classes that would be variable to the "boomers" working scheduled. It will be interesting to see if anything changes when they they find a new executive director.

Like this comment
Posted by Money, money
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Evening hours and more efficient management would make it unnecessary to expand.
Avenidas is following the trend of big developers-- more! bigger! and more money for architects and developers.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Avenidas management - maybe it was the Board - made a BIg mistake when it publicly supported/endorsed the pro -Maybell measure/ proposition on the ballot. Avenidas is supposed to be a 'non-profit', and it has (had) many supporters on both sides of the issue. It has no business getting involved in any voting issue. Maybe it has learned something over this- but many doubt it.

Like this comment
Posted by Unhealthy influence
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 7, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Not only did Avenidas support development on Maybell, they also supported the development at Alma Plaza.
Their most egregious support was to give a "Lifetime Achievement Award" to the developer of the outsized office building called Lytton Gateway WHILE the project was being considered by the city. No doubt Boyd Smith has given money to Avenidas but influencing a private project like that is unacceptable payback.
The development interests on the Avenidas board are influencing its policies in an unhealthy way.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Greater Miranda

on Jun 6, 2017 at 7:57 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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