Creating Community for a Lifetime

About Us

How We View Aging

Underlying the work of the initiative is the belief that older community members represent a largely untapped resource whose wisdom, experience, and free time can be leveraged to address some of the most urgent unmet needs of the community. The aging of America - including Kent County - is underway. Today, one in ten Americans - about 35 million people - are 65 or over. Within 30 years that number will double and one in five Americans will be 65 or over. We are in the midst of a demographic revolution that is fueled by a combination of the "longevity revolution" and the aging of the baby boom generation.

Americans are living longer. In the 20th century, the average lifespan of Americans increased by 30 years, from 47 to 77 years. At the same time, the largest generation in American history, the baby boomers who number more than 75 million and make up a third of the total U.S. population, is approaching 65.

Kent County reflects these national trends. For example, the number of people in Kent County living beyond the age of 85 increased by 28 percent from 1990 to 2000. In 2000, just over 20 percent of the county's residents were 65 and over, while the soon-to-be-senior baby boomers, aged 45 to 64, made up 20 percent of the county's residents.

How we view the aging of our community - as a problem or an opportunity - will go a long way toward limiting or expanding our capacity to build a better community for all. Those who espouse a "gray dawn" perspective warn of an aging society in which the meeting the needs of old people will tax society's resources to the point of threatening the wellbeing of the younger population component. In contrast, a "prime time" perspective sees the older population as a "growing natural resource" which can be leveraged to address pressing social issues.

The "prime time" viewpoint is consistent with the asset-based approach to community-building being taken by a growing number of community leaders across America, who focus on recognizing opportunities and leveraging a community's strengths to generate the creativity and vision to address challenges. The Creating Community for a Lifetime initiative, lead by a partnership of the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, embraces the asset-based community building philosophy.