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Social innovator Freedman inspires at first Northeast Ohio Aging and Disability Summit

The first Northeast Ohio Aging and Disability Summit took place virtually last week.  Over 400 attendees tuned in to hear local and national thought leaders speaking on topics ranging from the latest in assistive technology, to caregiving for diverse populations, to how to live forever through innovative social entrepreneurship.

Encore.org CEO and Founder Marc Freedman was the lunch keynote speaker at this year’s Summit.  Freedman is well known for his award-winning work in launching the ‘encore career’ initiative, and for authoring several books, including his latest release, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting Generations.

Freedman posits that the key to longevity lies in intergenerational connections, “The real fountain of youth it turns out -- is the fountain with youth,” he explains.  “What every child needs is at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about them.”

He asserts that older people who connect with younger people, becoming mentors or grandparents and forging cross generational bonds, are three times as likely to be happy as those who fail do so.

“The pitcher cries for water to carry -- and a person, for work that is real,” Freedman notes.  “That is a truth that doesn't expire at age 60 or 70 -- or any arbitrary age.”

Freedman believes the key to successful aging is returning to our roots.  “We thwarted something deeply natural and rooted in all human history,” he explains.  “In the nineteenth century, age was irrelevant in people's lives. Americans did not even know how old they were.  Through age segregation, we may have gained in efficiency, but I think we lost in humanity.”

Freedman gave several examples of how a new intergenerational approach is connecting young and old, with positive outcomes. One such example can be found right here in Cuyahoga County.  Judson Manor, an adult living facility located in University Circle, launched an Artist-in-Residence Program with the Cleveland Institute of Music, in which free housing is provided to graduate music students in exchange for free musical performances for residents.  It has proven to be a novel way to both enrich the lives of a music loving community, while assisting rising musical artists with limited means. 

“Efforts like Judson Manor, Nesterly -- a similar program in Columbus, Oh.--  and Now Teach, a program that fast-tracks retired professionals into careers in teaching -- are like bamboo breaking through the sidewalk,” Freedman observes.  “There is something deeply human that we've impeded for a long time, but that refuses to die and is continuing to press forward. I find these to be great sources of hope.”

Freedman closed his address by sharing three principles for embracing multigenerational opportunities. “First, we're going to have to reimagine later life. Instead of trying so hard to be young -- graying as playing -- we need to be there for those who actually are young,” he challenges.  “Second, we need to be as creative in bringing the generations together as we've been in splitting them apart.  Lastly, we need to bring our best thinking and our brightest social innovators to this question of age integrating our multigenerational society.”

The Northeast Ohio Aging and Disability Summit is presented by the Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services, in partnership with The MetroHealth System and the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging.  Major sponsors for this year’s Summit included AARP Ohio, CareSource and Medical Mutual.  For information, visit dsas.cuyahogacounty.us or contact agingsummit@jfs.ohio.gov.