The Art of Aging

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”  Betty Friedan

The Redwoods Senior Community in the heart of Mill Valley has always been a study in aging gracefully. And now, after 38 years, the organization itself is also attempting to age and grow gracefully.

The Redwoods is in the midst of a $32.8 million revitalization and remodel of their 40 year old facility, transforming it into an updated, expanded, more spacious and gracious living environment. It is a major undertaking, a dramatic face lift for the facility, but one which promises to maintain its woodsy warmth and design integrity. Completion of the remodel on the 10-acre, 15-building campus is slated for 2016.

Meanwhile, you can’t miss the construction zones, the plastic wrapped spaces and the sawdust, or the massive new institutional kitchen site where a state of the art, vastly expanded kitchen is under construction. The existing kitchen has been demolished and temporary kitchen trailers set up to serve residents in interim, but no one seems to be complaining. The food is as good as ever.

Despite the hard hats, buzz of skill drills and construction site chaos, to the extent it’s possible,  this rehab is being done with poise and grace. Different wings and sections are being re-done in stages with minimum impact to the residents.  It is no small task to relocate seniors to temporary on-site quarters for months on end while their “wing” is renovated.  Some however,  are already back in their newly remodeled spaces– and happy with the outcome.

Resident Mary Nishifue who teaches yoga to residents, is delighted with her new space, which includes a modernized kitchen and bath. With a big smile on her face, she waves guests into her apartment for a tour. “It is light and bright, and the new appliances and fixtures are lovely. Look at this beautiful bathroom,” she beams.

There is a strong sense of community and camaraderie at The Redwoods that seems unfazed by the ongoing construction. You sense it as you wander the grounds. Small groups are gathered in animated conversation, staff and residents chat cheerfully in the hallways. The Rock of the Ages and Redwood Drummer groups continue their popular performances; the lovely organic garden remains a source of solace and beauty, as well as an opportunity for residents to grow their own food.  The construction is daunting, but most of the 340 residents (the average age is 87) seem to be taking it in stride and are looking forward to their new, improved home.

Established in 1972, to provide affordable rental housing to moderate and low-income seniors, The Redwoods has become a model for other senior retirement communities. One of the most affordable rental retirement communities in Marin, the not-for-profit Redwoods, offers three levels of care: independent living; assisted living; and licensed skilled nursing. It is not surprising to learn that there is usually a waiting list of over 1,000 at the facility. 

In addition to the new living spaces, kitchen and dining room that are under construction, the main entry and lobby area will be expanded for better access and flow, and a new wellness center was just funded. The campus is also going “green” with new sustainable water and power systems.  It is a major revitalization project and while somewhat disruptive, is being executed with care and sensitivity by the 150+ staff and 900+ volunteers who work on the property. 

Barbara Solomon, CEO at The Redwoods, is of course enthused about the upgrades to the property. “We have always prided ourselves on providing a unique environment and lifestyle that really create a sense of community – it is what differentiates The Redwoods. This revitalization will only enhance the quality of life here even more.” 

The construction has not kept the very active and somewhat renowned resident activists who are part of The Redwoods “Seniors for Peace” group from marching (with walkers and wheelchairs in some instances) to the corner of Miller and Camino Alto streets every week as they have always done. Their street corner demonstrations – waving posters and signage advocating against war – are now legendary with the locals. No back hoe is going to stop this group.

So don’t forget to “honk if you are for peace” when you drive by and see these seniors perched on the corner. Most importantly, remember the value of aging gracefully and with gusto…in the company of friends.