​May is Older Americans Month; and after two years of a pandemic, this year’s celebration has taken on new meaning as more people are able to enjoy in-person events and activities. For example, in Washington, D.C., nursing homes and assisted living communities, along with their staff and residents, physically and symbolically connected in a city-wide relay run held May 12. This event, the second annual D.C. Longevity Fun Run, honors elders—especially those over the age of 100—and celebrates the resilience and strength of those who live and work in senior living.

“It reunites us as a community beyond our walls and reminds us that we have more in common than that which has kept us apart. Each older American participating has a lifetime of wisdom to share,” says Tina Sandri, chief executive officer of Forest Hills of D.C. (FHDC).

The theme this year was Old People Are Cool, in connection with a project by the same name launched by Linked Senior. The initiative is designed to confront harmful ageism that may prevent communities from reaching their maximum potential. People can go online and take the Old People Are Cool Oath. Charles de Vilmorin, chief executive officer and co-founder of Linked Senior and an avid long-distance runner, coordinated the relay race’s logistics; he also ran in the event.

To kick off fun run D.C. Council member Mary Cheh delivered a proclamation declaring that May is Old People Are Cool Month in D.C. The D.C. Council had voted the previous week to approve this proclamation.

Ready, Set, Go!

The relay started with Cherrie Neville, an FHDC resident. During the event, senior living residents throughout the city passed the baton to health care workers. The run closed with Judith O’Hara, Resident Council President at FHDC, receiving the baton from the last runner. Originally from Oak Park, Ill., O’Hara spent her career as an attorney specializing in estate planning and as an advocate for poor and marginalized people.

“The residents living in our collective senior living communities have rich stories to tell, and this was a wonderful opportunity to recognize them and give them a chance to share their insights and experiences,” said Sandri.

A total of 11 communities and their residents and staff participated in the relay. In addition to FHDC, these included Stoddard Baptist Homes, The Marigold Assisted Living, Serenity Rehabilitation and Health Center, Stoddard Baptist Global Care, Carroll Manor, Jeanne Jugan Residence/Little Sisters of the Poor, Knollwood Life Plan and Retirement Community, Forest Side of D.C., Lisner Louise Dickson Hurt Home, and Sunrise on Connecticut Avenue.

The race also had Isabella Firth Shycoff, FHDC board chair; Sithembile “Thembi” Chithenga, MD, MPH, an epidemiologist and team lead, HCF Investigations, Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, D.C. Department of Health; and Salamawit Iemma, a certified nursing assistant at Sunrise of Connecticut Avenue all running together.

“It was so wonderful to see so many people united by their love for our residents and older people everywhere,” said Sandri.

Older Americans Month was established in 1963. Historically, it has served as an acknowledgement of the contributions of past and current older people to the country. Every President since John F. Kennedy has issued a formal proclamation asking the nation to pay tribute to older people in their communities. Each year the celebration has a different theme. The 2022 theme is Age My Way.

Joanne Kaldy is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in New Orleans.