In April 1963, President John F. Kennedy designated the month of May as "Senior Citizens Month" to encourage the nation to pay tribute to older people and to celebrate their contributions and achievements.
In 1965, Congress passed the Older Americans Act and established the Administration on Aging, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, to address the lack of community social services for older people in the United States. In 1980, the month of May was changed to "Older Americans Month" by President Jimmy Carter.
Every year the Administration on Aging creates a national theme for Older Americans Month. This year's theme, "never too old to play," encourages older Americans to stay engaged, active and involved in their own lives and in their communities.
We hear over and over again, "children are the future of the country." In reality, older citizens are the real future, as they mold and manufacture the future by passing on their knowledge, wisdom and skills to the next generation through teaching, training and guiding.
Nowadays, older Americans remain a major part of the work force, and serve as mentors for the younger generation. They are the backbone of the volunteer force, essential for the functioning of all charitable and some private organizations that support society. They take leadership positions in their neighborhoods, ranging from beautification to crime prevention.
They strengthen the social fabric of families in their roles as dependable caregivers - helping to raise grandchildren and great-grandchildren, leading them by example, supporting them financially and nurturing them emotionally. President Bill Clinton and current President Barack Obama were raised by their grandparents. My own grandmother, who never had a formal education of her own, was the pillar of my emotional, intellectual and spiritual strength.
The rebellious younger generation that never relates to their parents out of resentment for discipline will listen to their grandparents out of unconditional affection and trust.
Selfless civic-minded senior volunteers create a culture of giving and forgiving to the unrelated and observant younger generation. They help less fortunate seniors through support groups and assist the less vibrant through supporting activities.
Each May, Older Americans Month is celebrated through various ceremonies and events, starting with the presidential proclamation. Many local activities are sponsored by Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas. One of the activities, inherited by the Pasco District School Board, in partnership with the Pasco Education Foundation and the Community Aging and Retirement Services (CARES), is a yearly "my favorite old person'' essay contest. The contest encourages fifth-grade students in Pasco schools to write about a special older person in their lives. One has to read these essays, as I did, to realize that the social fabric of this community and country is still very intact, indeed.
Throughout the year, CARES also conducts various inter-generational activities fostering rich relations between youngsters and seniors. The older Americans have given this country a lot and have a lot more to give. They are the makers and markers of the future. The youngsters have a lot to learn from them.
The late Andy Rooney said it best. "The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person."
Older Americans truly deserve not only our honor and respect, but also our attention, assistance and support.
Dr. Rao Musunuru, a practicing cardiologist, is an honorary board member of CARES.