After retiring from my 37-year career as a probation officer, I heard about Emeritus College, which offered classes for seniors. I was soon enrolled in an acting class, an endeavor I had never pursued in my life. Within a short time, my father, recently widowed, came to class with me. For three years we attended weekly, performing in our class showcases twice a year onstage in front of a live audience. It brought joy and purpose to our lives. It helped my father stay happy, healthy and active rather than being a burden on his family and society. It changed my life completely, launching me into an acting career.

I came to realize how vital and valuable senior programs are. I advocate for senior community programs whenever possible as I am living proof of their benefits. Senior community programs fill the gap for seniors that employment or child rearing used to occupy. They give seniors a purpose, empowering them to take better care of themselves and thus have fewer medical problems. Without a sense of purpose, seniors feel alienated, depressed and worthless.

The funding for senior programs is being cut because times are hard and the economy is bad. The argument that giving money to senior programs takes money from education of our children is specious. One should have nothing to do with the other. If senior community programs are lumped under a bundle called education, and that argument persists, then transfer them to a new and separately funded category called something like: The Department of Senior Enrichment. Government agencies are looking for ways to save money. Senior programs seem like a perfect target. Why not? What’s so important about senior community programs anyway?

Let’s take a look at what seniors (that includes Baby Boomers) contribute to society. They are not just elderly people to be put out to pasture. Seniors offer many things. They pass down the family and societal history. They are caretakers. They are role models. They are the guardians of wisdom and experience, of the sensibility of society — society’s stewards. Just take a look at most of the members in the Senate and House of Representatives — our own governor.

Social: Many seniors are at a point in their lives where they are able and willing to give back to the community. They constitute the bulk of volunteers at places like hospitals, parks, museums, schools, police departments, etc. Many of our institutions cannot afford to hire enough staff. They couldn’t function without volunteers. Seniors have the time, interest and enthusiasm.

Economic: Seniors form a huge demographic. They control vast amounts of wealth, which translates into purchasing power of significant amounts of goods and services.

Political: Seniors form a huge voting block. They are a demographic which should be pursued and courted by businesses and politicians, not ignored.

The idea of offering low-cost classes at Emeritus College in lieu of free classes should be explored. However, let’s remember to support our senior programs and not relinquish so easily something we may never be able to reclaim. Seniors have a major impact on our society socially, economically and politically. Just as we spend time, energy, and resources on our children for the sake of our future, so must we spend the same on our seniors for the sake of our present.

Lee Gale Gruen

Beverly Hills, Calif.

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