United Church Homes’ Parker Center to Host Symposium Addressing Ageism

Dr. Tracey Gendron, keynoter for this year’s Annual Symposium.

By Catherine West. Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2023 issue of United Church Homes’ Spirit magazine.

The theme for the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging’s 8th annual symposium — slated for Oct. 6 at the Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center in the Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Lewis Center — is “Dismantling Ageism: How Stereotypes, Prejudice and Discrimination Based on Age Affect Us All.”

The symposium is one of many ways that the Parker Center seeks to transform how society thinks about aging through engagement, education and advocacy. It strives to confront and eliminate ageism in our culture and serves as a resource on aging to community partners, public and private organizations, media and anyone interested in aging.

“Ageism is the last form of discrimination that’s accepted by society,” said the Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, director of the Parker Center of United Church Homes (UCH) and UCH’s vice president of engagement. “Engaging in ageism is discriminating against our future selves, but unless you’ve been on the receiving end, you’re likely somewhat unaware of it. Despite the fact that Baby Boomers continue to live and thrive much longer than previous generations, their needs are generally not perceived as top public policy issues.”

Hosting an annual symposium is one of many ways in which the Parker Center strives to increase awareness of ageism and its negative impact on seniors and society.

The Rev. Beth Long-Higgins

“It’s not about your age, it’s about your experiences,” Long-Higgins said. “The problem isn’t limited to American culture — it’s global. The symposium serves to increase awareness of ageism and to empower attendees to respond when they encounter it.”

The 2023 symposium is expected to draw about 150 in-person and 50-to-100 virtual participants. In addition to UCH staff, attendees will include individuals from faith-based and secular organizations, researchers and students studying aging, and older adults.

The keynote speaker for the 2023 event is Dr. Tracey Gendron, chair of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Gerontology and director for the Virginia Center on Aging. She also is the author of Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End It.

With more than 25 years of experience as a grant-funded researcher and nationally recognized speaker, Gendron is dedicated to raising awareness and ending ageism through education. She has a master’s degree in gerontology and psychology, and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology.

Gendron has dedicated her career to changing the landscape by developing an age-inclusive climate that facilitates growth and engagement in elderhood. Her personal and professional goal is to raise awareness of elderhood as the solution to the deeply embedded ageism pervasive within all cultures, settings, and individuals.

“Ageism is found in so many contexts — workplace, healthcare, media and community settings,” said Kim Moeller, who works closely with Long-Higgins as the Parker Center’s program and special events coordinator. “The symposium brings people together to think and talk about stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination based on age.”

“Aging doesn’t have to be viewed as a decline,” she continued. “Understanding a problem is essential to addressing it. We want to build awareness and empower people to do something about ageism. The symposium serves as a forum for both.”

The Parker Center’s annual symposium occurs in October, the month set aside as the United Nation’s annual International Day of Older Persons. October also includes the United States’ annual Ageism Awareness Day. In 2023, Ageism Awareness Day is Oct. 7.

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