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Senior Safari Walkabout at Happy Hollow Park-Heather Lerner

December 11th, 2017

senior safari heather Lerner

For the past several years I’ve spent my work days at a vintage amusement park and accredited zoo, watching families play and learn together in a beautiful outdoor setting.  In community meetings, clubs and boards, people who learned that I was involved with Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, would invariably remark, “Oh I LOVE Happy Hollow!  I can’t go any more because I don’t have small children in my life”.  That was the start of thinking that there had to be a way to bring the generation that started Happy Hollow, which opened in 1961 to a ribbon cutting by Jerry “The Beaver” Mathers, from the hit sitcom, Leave it to Beaver, back to a place they already knew and loved.  

It seemed that the number one barrier was being childless in a kid-centric environment.  I’d had success with a night time event that gave the 21 and up crowd the feeling of sneaking into the park after dark.  I was thrilled to see how they used the space once it was modified with enhancements to appeal to the gala set.  It got me thinking, we could do a daytime version of this.  We just needed to give the space over fully to the older adults, with a few enhancements that would be appealing for different reasons— for one, obviously the night time bar would need to be replaced with fresh smoothie samples (park management would never let me get away with Bloody Marys).  I knew we shouldn’t be focused on all the negatives of getting older, rather center our attention on what we do best; that’s play and enchantment. No falls prevention hand-outs,, no stroke awareness brochures or any commercial pitches whatsoever.  I wanted to remind people about the power of play, of how great a brisk walk outside (not in a mall) feels, and as my mom informed me as I was asking her what she thought would make it appealing, “we want ice cream”.  Mother, really?  It’s breakfast.  Turns out she was right.  A break in the rules can be as invigorating as a slight chill in the morning that warms quickly under blue skies.  

I wanted others to experience what I got to enjoy every work day before opening— watching the animals wake up, the zoo keepers, Puppet Castle Theater and amusement rides staff on their routines getting ready for what I call, the park and zoo show. I knew other zoos had rolled out plans exclusively for seniors and had heard of their successes. Working with park staff on a prototype, with the confidence of outside funders who also believed in the model, we debuted Senior Safari Walkabout mornings.  A time slot exclusively for those 50 and up, a place to walk 10,000 steps, connect with animals, sketch, take photos, and even try hula hooping with the artists on staff.  

Looking at new ways of using existing spaces and programs was the mother of invention that addressed a growing need for social inclusion and outdoor activity for seniors in our area .  The guests led us the rest of the way, with their ideas leading to guided walks, Tai Chi, watercolor painting, line dancing and more. My favorite was the insistence that the rides be open before all those little tripping hazards, er, children, arrived and would take up all the spaces on the Keep Around Carousel, Danny the Dragon and the hands-down crowd favorite, the roller coaster.  Seniors know what they want and need;  we just need to listen and be willing to modify.

Heather Lerner recently finished a successful career leading many new initiatives and renovations as Executive Director of Happy Hollow Foundation.  She is now Director of Development with Boy Scouts of America, Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council.

Heather Lerner

Changing Aging: Is the Business Community Prepared?

February 28th, 2017

We were so thrilled to introduce Susan Ellenberg, Senior Director of Community Development for SVO (the silicon valley organization) to our Age-friendly initiative and introduce her to John Feather, CEO of Grantmakers in Aging, when he was in San Jose for the Seniors’ Agenda Network Summit. Susan and The Health Trust graciously hosted a breakfast with alumni of Leadership San Jose to share the economic impact of Age-Friendly cities.  Here are her reflections and insights from the discussion over breakfast.

I hadn’t thought very much about ‘old people’ (though my young adult children insist that I am one) before participating in a conversation with a small group of LSJ alumni, facilitated by  Dr John Feather, Chief Executive Officer at Grantmakers in Aging, around the subject of an aging citizenry. Apparently, they (we) are a growing cohort: in 2017, ‘seniors’ (defined here as 60+) make up 15% of our county’s population; by 2030, that proportion will double to 30%. That’s a lot of people lining up for the 4:30 matinee.

This shifting demographic is going to have significant, in many ways positive, impact on all aspects of our economy.

  1. Seniors continue to pay taxes, but place less demand on public education, police services, jails and roads
  2. Seniors spend money: on movies, theater, restaurants, fitness clubs, lectures, travel and more
  3. Seniors generate new industry niches: Lyft, for example, is capitalizing on this new population, both as passengers and drivers.
  4. Seniors generate new product and service needs, from new technologies to enhance brain health and person-centric health care to self-driving cars, drones and task robots. Entire incubators are being designed to foster growth in this area (check out as an example).
  5. Seniors often scale down, increasing demand for small, often higher density housing and desire amenities that are within walking distance
  6. Seniors are positioned to promote an agenda for universal design: housing, transportation, roads and sidewalks, and businesses that are designed to be accessible for seniors are by definition more inclusive of the entire population including people with disabilities and children.

On the other hand, seniors who are not financially secure place a demand on social services: they may need subsidized housing, supplemental nutrition and health care, modified transportation and day centers. How a community cares for its seniors says much about its ethical nature. San Jose was recently designated by the World Health Organization as an ‘Age Friendly City’ and the County of Santa Clara is working toward all 15 cities in the county earning this designation by the coming summer. The public sector is thinking about and planning for the growing tide of seniors, but is the business sector yet focused on this shift? How will businesses be impacted and what new practices might be put into place?

One suggestion is to follow the public sector example and think about what it might mean to be an ‘age friendly business’. Some qualities might include the following:

  1. Employees are trained to be patient with a client/customer who appears to be confused, is moving slowly or has trouble making a decision. They are further trained to speak loudly and clearly, without expressing frustration or yelling, when it appears that someone is having trouble hearing them.
  2. Places of business provide access to comfortable places to sit, particularly if clients/customers may expect to wait some time for their product/service.
  3. Signage is printed in a large enough font to be visible to people with diminished eyesight.
  4. Similarly, menus with large font and lighting sources are available.
  5. Accessible restrooms are available.
  6. The business’s physical design offers universal access to adults with strollers, people with disabilities and seniors, including ramps, restroom safety rails and wide aisles.

An “age friendly business” designation could drive more customers or clients to patronize a business that thoughtfully caters to all community members.

The business community could also choose to recognize and celebrate businesses that are actively catering to this emerging demographic and investors might be encouraged to fund innovations that will be of use to an increasingly large percentage of the population.

There is much the business community can do to prepare for and prosper in a community populated by many more persons ‘of a certain age’ and the svo is prepared to be a part of that conversation. For more information or to engage in creating an action plan around Changing Aging, please contact Susan Ellenberg at

WHO’s “Eight domains”

March 15th, 2016

Man on Train

Today, research shows communities adapting to meet the needs of their older adult citizens raise the quality of life in ways that also appeal across the age spectrum. This is a core message for Santa Clara County and our cities, as we work together to join the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Global Network.

Joining this effort helps us prepare for two global demographic trends: the rapid aging population, and increasing urbanization. An age-friendly community adapts its structures and services to be inclusive of all community members with varying needs and capabilities.

Our City and County are using age-friendly guidelines to assess our needs, and to find where we need additional services, facilities or programs, using WHO’s research-based “eight domains:”

  • Outdoor spaces and building
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Social participation
  • Respect and social inclusion
  • Civic participation and information
  • Communications and information
  • Community support and health services

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