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Letter from the CEO

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Age-friendly communities working against social isolation

Dear Friends,

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “…the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

At GIA, that’s precisely what we’re doing—working against loneliness and social isolation—through age-friendly initiatives like Community AGEnda, which aims to help communities become great places to grow up and grow old.

It’s important work, as I pointed out in a recent Huffington Post article, “How Reducing Social Isolation Protects Older Adults,” because social isolation is a killer.

Older people who don’t maintain regular contact with others are at far greater risk for everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, institutionalization, stroke, re-hospitalization, depression, and suicide. Their isolation can even exacerbate tumor growth. In fact, they’re twice as likely to die prematurely than are people who meet and communicate regularly with others.

According to the National Council on Aging, as many as one in six seniors face these risks, with  older women, who represent more than 60 percent of isolated older adults, bearing the biggest burden.

It can happen for a variety of reasons: geographical location, lack of transportation, chronic illness, language barriers, identifying as LGBT, or the death of a spouse, to name a few.

Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad. If social isolation can make us sick and shorten our lives, establishing connections with other people can powerfully exert the opposite effect.

That is why the World Health Organization, a leader in the age-friendly communities movement, lists social inclusion as a key characteristic for communities seeking to join its Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities.

For our part, Community AGEnda, funded by the Pfizer Foundation, recently launched a person-to-person social media campaign called #GenTogether, which encouraged intergenerational connections by inviting people to post a photo with at least one friend, acquaintance, or family member of another generation on Twitter, Instagram, or the Grantmakers In Aging Facebook page. You can also post the story behind the photo.

Here’s the photo I posted: 

From left to right: Trey Curran, John Feather, Ryan Morris, and Naveed Haque

Here’s the story behind the photo: The Tejas Club was founded at the University of Texas at Austin in 1925 as a men’s leadership organization on campus. One of the important responsibilities in the group is that someone tell a joke or funny story at each meeting. Because the stories often involve members of the group, occasionally, this person finds himself being tossed into a nearby body of water. Hence the name for the position: Club Duck. The photo shows Ducks who have carried this 90-year tradition in the past and into the present.

I encourage you all to do the same with a selfie of your own, either one you already have or a new one you take just for purpose. The campaign began as a contest, and the deadline for entries has already passed, but we’d still love to have your picture.

You can learn more about how and where to post it here.

I also invite you to read—and “like”—my article on social isolation in the Huffington post here.

I deeply believe that freeing older adults from social isolation is a goal we can all strive for and achieve, both personally and as grantmakers.

John Feather
Chief Executive Officer
Grantmakers in Aging

Archive of Letters from the CEO

Fall 2013

Spring 2015



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