From the Philadelphia Gay News

By Megan McCoy

Most people have some familiarity with the concept of the “Jedi Master” popularized in the Star Wars movies. If you’re not a fan of the films, the idea is that of a guru who possesses infinite wisdom gained through years of experience surviving in the universe. What if we could have that kind of “mastery,” or at least something similar, as we age?

Many LGBT older adults are faced with negotiating multiple healthcare providers, managing challenges related to physical health, loss of loved ones, and many may experience what feels like a loss of control. In a 2016 research review conducted by the Williams Institute, researchers found that LGBT older adults experienced high risks of mental health issues, disability, and higher rates of disease and physical limitation than their heterosexual counterparts. For LGBT older adults, there is no playbook for how to be successful and “master” later life— until now.

This summer, LGBT older adults in the Philadelphia area are invited to participate in the Aging Mastery Program, also known as AMP.  Developed by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), AMP is a 10-week program designed to kickstart older adults’ path to “mastering” later life. AMP features 10 workshops on topics including physical activity, healthy eating, navigating longer life, sleeping well, medication management, falls prevention, community engagement, healthy relationships, advance planning, and financial fitness. The sessions are facilitated by a roster of guest speakers from the community.

To graduate as an “Aging Master” participants complete 7 of 10 modules, track and engage in healthy activities, and earn incentives such as gift cards. For example, an AMP participant attends a workshop, learns about the importance of physical activity, and then can earn points toward a gift card by attending a yoga class. One recent participant describes learning to master her finances: “I hadn’t realized where my money was going, but the money assessment homework helped me better manage my money.” Others master their health. “My favorite topic was healthy eating,” said a recent graduate, “My doctors even noticed improvements in health over the last 10 weeks.”

According to NCOA, AMP has been offered at over 260 sites nationally. Participants stay committed to the 10-week program, with 80% graduating. Results of the program show that participants increase their social connections, physical activity level, and healthy eating habits. Additionally, participants learn how to take advantage of advanced planning and evidence-based health promotion programs offered in their community.  

Most importantly, AMP participants enjoy themselves! NCOA reports 97% of participants have fun and 98% would recommend AMP to a friend. “I loved every topic” a recent AMP graduate exclaimed, “the best part was coming to socialize every week…I made new friends.”

The Aging Mastery Program is being offered specifically for LGBT older adults for the first time through a collaboration between the LGBT Elder Initiative and Center in the Park, a nationally accredited senior center in Germantown. Center in the Park was one of the first five senior centers in the nation to pilot AMP and is the only aging services provider in the Philadelphia region to offer the program. The project builds on the LGBT Elder Initiative and Center in the Park’s history of collaborating to offer programs that are inclusive for LGBT elders, and is made possible through a Community Innovation Grant from the Independence Blue Cross Foundation.

Older adults from the LGBT community are invited to get “AMP-ed Up” and register for the upcoming program. Those who graduate will be invited to serve on a newly established LGBT Aging Mastery Advisory Council to provide input on future programs at Center in the Park. Though perhaps not quite as glamorous as being a “Jedi,” you will achieve the status of “Aging Master.”

The LGBT Aging Mastery Program kicks off on May 21st and runs through August 1. Weekly sessions will be held at Center in the Park (www.centerinthepark.org). For more information on the Aging Mastery Program and to register, please contact Fatima Jackson at 215-848-7722, extension 305. Center in the Park is located at 5818 Germantown Avenue, in historic Vernon Park. The Center is accessible by both the Chestnut Hill East and West regional rail lines, and several bus routes including, the 23, 65, X, XH, J, K, and L.

Megan C. McCoy, MSS, MLSP is the Director of Grant Research & Development at Center in the Park.