How do we live our later years with resilience and hope despite the challenges we may face?

When Marjorie U. Sokoll, JF&CS Director of Spirituality and Aging, turned 59 in 2013, she began thinking about her upcoming 60th birthday. She had worked with older adults at JF&CS for 20 years but felt a deep personal yearning to focus more of her attention on the topic of spirituality and aging as she approached this milestone birthday.

“Turning 60 was truly a transitional moment in my life. Most of my professional life had been devoted to working with older adults. Now it had become personal.”

For the first time in history, many of us who reach 60 may have 20, 30, or more additional years of life. There is a growing body of research linking spirituality and religion to the possibility of improved health and well-being as we age. These benefits include but are not limited to a better ability to cope with stress as well as the changes and transitions that come with aging.

With this information and this personal desire, Marjie developed the JF&CS Spirited Aging program, which aims to support people of all ages in their search to find meaning, joy, and spirituality in their lives as they grow older. She used the same JF&CS model as the synagogue Caring Communities Resource Network and the Memory Café Percolator, where experts in their field train others.

Now, with help from JF&CS colleagues Sue Spielman and Barbara Sternfield, Spirited Aging offers programs and groups for clients, JF&CS staff and other professionals, and the larger community. And thanks to a generous bequest from William A. and Judith S. Yoffie, Marjie and her team were able to bring Spirited Aging to Central MA at two different events hosted at the Worcester JCC.

In May, more than 60 people attended a community-wide Spirited Aging event exploring how we understand and find meaning and purpose in the experience of growing older. The number of people in attendance spoke to the clear interest for this type of programming in Central MA.

Marjie shared, “There was a man in attendance in his early 90s and it was clear that, in this setting, he felt a real sense of honor in having lived longer than others in the room. In our youth oriented culture, I’m thrilled that the Spirited Aging program created a space where there is pride in being the oldest in the room.”

In June, 15 people met for a workshop to learn about creating their own Spirited Aging groups. Ages ranged from 27 to 81 with participants coming from community agencies, synagogues, and churches, learning from one another, supporting each other, and sharing resources and ideas.

“Offering this workshop to learn about Spirited Aging empowers participants to feel confident in running their own discussion groups – for people in this new chapter of life,” said Marjie. “We are all pioneers, as so many people have never lived this long before. This longevity begins with the Baby Boomers and will continue with Generation X and the Millennials and people want both guidance and inspiration.”

Because of the success of this workshop, a Spirited Aging Learning Community in Central MA will be developed soon.

“The reality is that no one person has to be the expert.” Marjie shared. “Spirited Aging helps us appreciate and understand that as human beings we are on this journey together.”

This program was made possible through the generous bequest of William A. and Judith S. Yoffie. Many thanks to the Worcester JCC for co-sponsoring the event and to our promotional partners, Central Mass Chabad, Congregation Beth Israel, Congregation Shaarai Torah West,Hadassah Greater Boroughs, Jewish Federation of Central MA, Jewish Healthcare Center, and Temple Emanuel-Sinai.

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