Island Forum | Wanted: Islanders to help guide Senior Commission

Harriet Weiss
Island Forum

A recent Mercer Island Reporter front-page article noted that “the city once again finds itself on a ‘best of’ list. It has been ranked 20th on a list of the 20 most educated ‘small towns’ in America in the most recent issue of Forbes Magazine.”

According to information received from the city clerk, as of 2004 (the most recent census data noted), Mercer Islanders are indeed highly educated, with more than 69 percent having bachelor’s degrees and/or professional degrees. Included in that number are the more than one-third of Mercer Island residents age 55 and above. As the apartments and condos near completion, that percentage will undoubtedly grow. And so will the challenge to the city to meet the needs of the Island’s senior adult population. Not only their physical needs, but their intellectual needs as well.

All of us recognize that Parks and Recreation and Youth and Family Services are serving their target populations and thank them for their important, essential work. But last year, the City Council also recognized the growing visibility of community senior adults and created the Mercer Island Senior Commission.

In November 2008, the Council voted to make the Commission permanent and suggested that it study programs presently offered by the city to identify areas which might require greater participation by an older adult population, or where other adaptations might be implemented. Changes such as offering programs more appropriate for our highly educated population, for example.

Recently, the Jewish Community Center sponsored a lecture by University of Washington professor Joel Migdal during the noon hour, and on the same day, an unexpected snowstorm struck. The event was open to the general public, which resulted in an immediate wait list with more than 125 people in attendance. In fact, several Island adult communities provided bus service for their residents. Please note: the lecture took place during daytime hours on a cold, wet, dark day and drew mostly seniors.

Its success proves that if offered quality programs, people will not only attend, but will support and embrace more events geared to intellectual stimulation. The population is out there, willing to participate. They don’t want bingo and jigsaw puzzles. They want substance.

Aware of the situation, Cindy Goodwin, who leads the Youth and Family Services Department, has made a commitment to assist the fledgling Mercer Island Senior Commission and has become a welcome, helpful resource.

Generous offers have been received from the staff of the city of Bellevue — which has a very successful senior adult program — to assist the Senior Commission, also, in formulating a plan for moving forward.

For many years, Bellevue — with the cooperation of Bellevue Community College — has offered classes off-site taught by emeritus professors which consistently draw enthusiastic participants from all over the Eastside, including Mercer Island. So why not have something comparable right here?

By studying what is or is not presently available for our highly educated senior population and recommending adaptations accordingly, we enhance the quality of life not just for seniors, but all Mercer Island residents. The proportionate costs of caring for adults with mental impairments or offering programs that keep them intellectually alert cannot even be calculated.

Currently, there are several openings on the Mercer Island Senior Commission. Applicants must be able to devote at least four hours of volunteer time per month. Applications will be available online and at City Hall. Commissioners can also address your community organization, faith-based group, etc., at your invitation to answer questions.

Please consider applying. You live in a unique “small town,” and we need your talents.

Harriet Weiss is the Chair of the Mercer Island Senior Commission. She can be reached at HarrJet@aol.com.

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