How do attitudes change? How are social norms altered and made better? How do we create true progress? It’s not from telling people that they have to change. People are stubborn, and societies even more so. No, real change comes from creating new structures, envisioning something different, and putting it into practice. In the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s, there was a slogan: “Attitude follows action.” If you get people to change their behavior, their attitudes will change along with them.
It’s a lesson that Norma Satten understood, and lived by. As a Bay Area pioneer in changing the lives of older adults, and empowering them to live the lives they choose, Norma helped to create a new attitude of love and respect for aging adults. By envisioning a different future, she created one. That’s why the Community Living Campaign, in which she played a key role, annually honors a Bay Area resident who has dedicated themselves to helping older adults live with dignity and independence.
And, this year, Institute on Aging is proud to announce that Patrick Arbore, EdD, is the recipient of the 2016 Norma Satten Community Service Award. Dr. Arbore is the Founder of Friendship Line and Founder/Director of IOA’s Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services (CESP), two nationally-recognized programs at Institute on Aging. He continues to present aging-related workshops and lectures throughout the country, and has authored numerous articles and book chapters on suicide prevention, bereavement, and suffering.
Norma’s Dedication to the Dignity of Life
Born in Brooklyn in 1922, Norma Satten pledged her life to making the world a better place, following the Hebrew phrase Tikkun Olam, meaning to heal the world through kindness. Her marriage brought her to Kansas, where she set up Topeka’s first City Planning Department, and later became the state’s first Director of Health Planning.
But it was in San Francisco, where she moved with her husband Joseph in 1971, that she did some of her most important work. In the midst of the ravages caused by the AIDS epidemic, and at a time when most government organizations were, at best, ignoring the dying, she was Director of Support Services for San Francisco Home Health and Hospice, later becoming the Director of Development for the Visiting Nurses Association of San Francisco. She established the Coming Home Hospice, the first such center for people dying from AIDS, as a restorative environment where they could live their final days in the peace and dignity afforded them as human beings.
That’s how Norma saw people—all people. That’s why the list of foundations she worked for is so long. And that’s what led her to the Community Living Campaign, a desire to imbue the lives of San Francisco’s older adults with meaning, purpose, and a sense of worth.
Norma Satten and the Community Living Campaign
The Bay Area, and San Francisco in particular, has a higher percentage of older adults and disabled residents than any other urban area in California. And, for years, they were largely neglected, a hidden part of a transforming region. But 35 years ago a group of people decided to put an end to that.
Calling themselves the Community Living Campaign, they dedicated themselves to helping give the elderly and disabled the power to choose for themselves how they live, and making institutions more integrated with, instead of isolated from, their communities.
They wanted to create community-based alternatives to anonymous, distant, and bureaucratic homes in which so many people spent their final days. With a large number of programs and policy initiatives designed to change lives and change actions, the CLC embodies the idea of helping people regain their place in society—and their mission statement reflects the powerful nature of their work.
“The Community Living Campaign strengthens and mobilizes individuals and organizations to assure every person’s right to live in community. Our strategy is to leverage the power of relationships to improve services and support.”
This spirit was embodied, and in some ways created, by Norma Satten, the first Board President of the Community Living Campaign. She was a tireless fighter for people who were forgotten, left to the side, and ignored for the sake of a rushing “progress.”
Dr. Patrick Arbore and Institute on Aging
It’s in this same spirit that Institute on Aging operates, which is why we were so proud to be honored at this year’s ceremony.
Held at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel on September 22nd, it was a night of inspiration, education, and entertainment. CLC Board Member Colt Standard served as host, and a special treat was the introduction of an “intergenerational hip-hop performance” by Bert Houle and Rebecca Fazio.
Dr. Arbore’s award was introduced by Norma’s daughter, Debby, and he spoke of IOA’s mission, and how we can all work to reduce the isolation and sadness, the loss of agency, and the feelings of diminished worth that are too often attendant with aging. Our society often pushes older adults to the side, giving them the message that they are no longer contributing. But local programs, like those at IOA, are trying to change that.
Everything we do at IOA keeps that in mind. Whether it’s helping older adults whose loneliness and feelings of helplessness bring them to the brink of suicide, or teaching stereotype-shattering activities like graffiti, we want to remind older adults—and society—that they are still people. They still have so much to give, and to learn, and to experience. Their place in our culture is the same as anyone else’s: Living as a fully-realized human being, ready to move forward and explore what life has to offer.
We are proud to share that mission with the CLC, and are proud that Dr. Arbore was honored with the memory of such a powerful figure as Norma Satten. We know that, through our continued work in the community, we can change how older adults live—and open up life’s possibilities. Through that, attitudes will change. We work towards the day when programs like ours are no longer revolutionary, but the expected norm. We work to make dignity the default for everyone.
At the Institute on Aging, we run programs and services to help older adults live full and rewarding lives. Connect with us today to learn how we work with families, caretakers, and our aging loved ones.