By Judy Carmack Bross
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”—Edith Wharton
The celebration of Trailblazers, creators of life-altering paths, is part of what makes The Village Chicago’s annual gala an event to anticipate like none other. “Jazzin’ With the Village” on September 18 at the Chicago History Museum and featuring entertainment by Porchlight Music Theatre, honors three individuals and DePaul University who are lighting the way to a more age-inclusive society and changing the narrative on age through words, strategies and music.
CEO Darcy Evon, told us:
“There is a special meaning to the Village’s recognition of the Trailblazers who pave the way for advancing the vital role of older adults in thriving, diverse, intergenerational communities.”
“This year, we are thrilled to honor two people who share equally in the individual award for their work in improving lives through the power of music; a university for the organization award because of its long-standing commitment to age inclusion and community betterment; and an author who has written a brilliantly compelling book on de-stigmatizing age.”
“Our Trailblazers again this year exemplify the best-of-the-best. Jonathan and Sandy Miller illuminate the power of music to improve health and wellbeing for everyone, including those with memory loss. DePaul University is a terrific community partner with a long history with the Village. Our organization was founded by neighbors who lived at the Seminary homes in 2009 with support from DePaul. President Robert Manuel is expanding the university’s commitment to the community and building a more engaged, inclusive city. Tracey Gendron, who is awarded the Author Trailblazer Award, is transforming notions of age bias against younger and older adults through this definitive work. She is changing the way we look at age and inspiring new ways to build a stronger, more creative, and productive society.”
Jonathan and the Reverend Dr. Sandy Siegel Miller
In 2016, The Rev. Dr. Sandy Siegel Miller and her husband Jonathan observed a choir that included people with memory loss and saw that 30 to 45 minutes into rehearsal something remarkable happened. “It was like their brains switched on or woke up. And for the rest of the rehearsal, you couldn’t tell who had dementia from who didn’t,” Jonathan Miller said. Recognizing the enormous impact that music has on people with early-stage memory loss, the Millers launched the Good Memories Choir in 2018 and now individuals and their care partners sing together.
Jonathan Miller serves as Artistic Director, directing several choirs and leading the Sounds Good conducting team and Dr. Siegel Miller works on program strategy for people with memory loss. She is coordinating a team of Northwestern neurology researchers who are studying the impact of choral singing on older adults which will contribute important data on the growing field of music and medicine.
Dr. Siegel Miller says, “Every time we perform, we are putting a public face on what being an older adult looks like. When people see the fun and joy and success that our singers are having, we’re bashing through the stereotypes and the stigmas that our culture attaches to older adults.”
Jonathan Miller says, “When you work with older adults, every single person in that room has some kind of experience that they can draw on and sing. When we ask them to sing from the heart, sing from your own life, of course they can do that. And that’s fabulous.”
He added: Maybe if you ask a high schooler to sing about heartbreak, you might not get so many good results. But if you’ve got a song about heartbreak and older adults are singing, you can bet everyone’s had that at least once and they can sing from that lived experience or joy or exaltation or anything like that.”
Robert Manuel, President of DePaul University.
Evon explained why DePaul University will receive the Trailblazer award for an organization.
“DePaul has demonstrated a deep commitment to forming partnerships that bring cultural and social enrichment to the communities that surround it. When The Village Chicago was forming in 2009, DePaul was one of its earliest supporters, offering meeting space, funding, experts, and collaboration. They helped the Village and the city foster an age-inclusive climate where all can thrive. In addition, community outreach through programs that range from bringing music education to people of all ages; to the annual day of service with 50 plus community partners; to an exploration of housing challenges facing older adults, all mark DePaul as a devoted and generous citizen of our city.”
Manuel observes: “DePaul and Chicago grew up together and…our worlds are tied intimately together as we develop quality of life for everybody from the young to the old. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to show our education in action.”
Tracey Gendron, PhD
Author of Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End It, Dr. Tracey Gendron exposes the layers of structural and cultural forces that cause us to tolerate and even promote behaviors towards people—even ourselves—based solely on age. Dr. Gendron serves as Chair for the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Gerontology and as Director for the Virginia Center on Aging. She has dedicated her 25-year career to raising awareness and ending ageism through education.
She writes: “The meaning we assign to being old and the concept of age identity are socially constructed.” Her book presents the origins of ageism, who benefits from perpetuating it, and sets the stage to create a society where “…everybody of every age matter, and feels a sense of belonging, feels a sense of inclusion.”
Gendron has observed: “Over time we have industrialized and profitised a system that was founded on the premise of age and ability exclusion and that has contributed to ageism, ableism and the intersection of the two.”
Judith Gethner and Ira Kohlman are co-chairs of the 2023 benefit Which supports the important work of the Village including fighting isolation and loneliness with social connection; supporting all aspects of health and wellbeing; and programs for families and individuals living with memory loss plus regular shared cultural and learning experiences. The Village’s reduced membership fee program ensures that everyone can participate regardless of their ability to pay.
Board Chair David Baker says, “The Village is growing, developing new programs and services, and more community collaborations for the benefit of the entire community. In addition to providing vital programs and services for older adults, The Village is one of the best ways to rebuild a social network after retirement.”
The 14th Annual Village benefit features auction items that all about experiences including a Pompano Beach getaway for a week, a music lover’s cottage in Three Oaks, Michigan and a chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings.
For Further information about “Jazzin’ With the Village,” visit: