As the ceiling changed colors like a chameleon running on a rainbow, Sharon Scanlon unsheathed her colorful, flashing drumsticks from a black velveteen drawstring bag. Slotting between best friends Jan Jansen and Mary Ann Gutridge, the three looked a little like a Led Zeppelin cover band.
It’s a Friday in Heritage Room A, on the east side of Newark. And it’s two o’clock in the afternoon, meaning that Tiffany Fling has taken her place at the front of the room, equipped with worn drum sticks – and a pink yoga ball with a sassy face drawn on the front – balancing on a 19-gallon Muck Tub. Around the room, 18 senior women with matching “drums” anxiously await the beginning notes of “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge to blast from the JBL speaker positioned in the middle of the circle, the telltale sign that cardio drumming has begun.
Cardio drumming is just one of the many accessible activities that Licking County Aging Partners offers. In the expansive brown building with dormer windows and a friendly lady with brown hair who sits at the front desk, Melissa Owens and the rest of the staff at the LCAP aim to serve the underrepresented demographic of people 60 years and older. They bring services home through programs like Meals on Wheels and provide a space for the socialization that sometimes gets lost once people hand in their badges, boots, or files.
“People always talk about how life is so short,” said Owens, 33, the LCAP Executive Director. “And it is, but it’s really long, too. Like, you can do so many things. And I think that is going to be the thing we change about our world moving forward … and it’s really exciting.”
That excitement is palpable in the halls of the LCAP. It emanates from Owens as soon as she begins talking about providing opportunity and purpose to those who recently retired. Focusing their efforts on two aspects of serving the community, the LCAP works to keep aging residents in their homes, where they want to be, in addition to providing a place to spend time, socialize, and eat lunch regardless of ability to pay.
As the holidays approach, the Aging Partners organization is preparing for its Holiday Dance on Dec. 19 at 5:30 p.m. It’s an event of dancing, music, and refreshments to spread the holiday cheer. It will be followed by Christmas Carol sing-alongs, Christmas-tree ornament crafting, and even a winter murder mystery to continue the holiday cheer at LCAP.
Sharon Scanlon, 72, a long-time resident of Licking County, has been a self-proclaimed regular for the last year, coming to almost every Wednesday and Friday edition of cardio drumming. Her first introduction came about two years ago, one year after becoming a widow, when her neighbor brought her along, “just to try it out.” Since then, Scanlon has found a community.
“I got lonely, but this place keeps me busy,” she said.
An American Psychological Association study from 2019 reported that one in three adults from ages 50-80 feels lonely. Owens explained this is due in part to the unexpected social changes that accompany the transition from the working world to retirement. With just over 2 million adults over the age of 65 in Ohio, and roughly 17,300 in Licking County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there is a large population at risk for isolation.
According to the World Health Organization, from 2000-2019, the average life expectancy increased by 6.6 years.
The number of citizens over the age of 60 is increasing yearly, along with their life expectancy. However, Owens says, the resources are not growing with them – a hole that Licking County Aging Partners aims to fill.
Along with cardio drumming, chair volleyball, introduction to line dancing, and never-ending bingo, the LCAP provides opportunities for modified work.
Among those who provide services at LCAP is Bruce Bennett, 69, who has lived in Newark for most of his life. For the first 43 years of his working career, Bennett worked designing office interiors for efficiency and aesthetics. Today, he is a Meals-on-Wheels driver for the Aging Partners, which he has been doing for the last six or seven years. Every morning, Monday through Friday, Bennett drives an Aging Partners van to deliver hot, freshly-made meals to his list of clients. Along with the meals, Bennett serves as a friendly face and a daily check-in, ensuring the health and well-being of all his recipients.
“The whole philosophy of Meals on Wheels is that it is more than a meal. It is someone checking on you every day, someone to notice,” Owens explained.
And for so many, that is Bennett. But they are not the only beneficiaries. This line of work, the second step in his career journey, has proven to be highly rewarding for Bennett as well.
“It changed my outlook on life completely,” said Bennett. “I think the one-on-one interaction, day in, day out … leads to a nice relationship with people. You get to learn a little bit more about everybody everyday. It’s exciting. I have made some nice relationships as a result of this job.”
This symbiosis is critical to the effectiveness of the Aging Partners. Without people such as Bennett looking to continue working, in a modified way (fewer hours or less physically demanding) and people such as his clients who need his services, the Aging Partners would not be as effective as they are today.
Owens hopes this model of accessible working conditions becomes a more popular and widely used philosophy.
“It is about reminding people that you are still needed and you are still wanted,” she said, “especially now that it seems like there are so many jobs open. We need to show people how to employ people that are over the age of 60.”
Owens hopes that LCAP is doing just that.
By providing important services that people need to survive, such as hot meals, clean homes, helping navigate Medicare, and providing transportation to and from doctors appointments, the LCAP allows members to stay in their homes longer.
Homemakers can be requested by members to visit homes and do basic household chores that can be difficult for older people, such as changing bed sheets and doing laundry.
At the LCAP campus, the staff and volunteers offer classes for people just turning 65, to learn which Medicare plan is right for them and how to register.
With events like these and important social services, the LCAP plays a crucial role in the mental and emotional wellbeing of its members in Licking County.
Sometimes they do it in back rooms with colorful disco lights. With giant sticky notes taped to the wall describing line dancing steps. With yoga balls sitting atop plastic buckets. And with a whole new meaning to moving to the beat of their own drum.
Licking County Aging Partners is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1058 East Main Street in Newark. Call 740-345-0821 for information, or go online to https://lcap.org/
Sarah Sollinger writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is sponsored in part by the Mellon foundation and donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.