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MPTF and Aging: Taking Care of Our Own
Aging in a capital P Place. The 90-year-old Motion Picture Television Fund campus in Woodland Hills is (total understatement here!) not your typical continuing care retirement community. It was developed for those who have worked in the industry at least 20 years, whether they were secretaries, set designers, cameramen, actors, directors, producers -- or the surviving spouses of same. The tour tends to stun even jabbermouths like me into silence after seeing the Roddy McDowell Rose Garden with the statue of Roddy McDowell in his role in the Planet of the Apes, after looking at the beautifully designed cottages and villas, seeing the on-campus movie theatre, then the in-house television station, the tiny John Ford chapel, the warm arthritis pool, watching the water aerobics class, peeking at the community gym and sitting for a few minutes with a charming resident and former film director whose wall was covered with signed photos from movie stars and a mind filled with memories from a long Hollywood career.
What I saw may be what they get. Costs for residents vary as to whether they can afford to pay -- Mary Pickford was the founder of the original Motion Picture Relief Fund to 'take care of our own' in this industry, those who could not always take care of themselves -- like the silent movie stars who lost their jobs when talking pictures made them obsolete. MPTF CEO Ken Scherer guided the tour -- showing the MPTF health center for nearby community members, and the wellness center that offers subtle geriatric assessments: Picture a small kitchen in which a senior can be asked to find a snack or make a cup of tea -- the exercise can serve as guidance to family members about whether it is safe to continue to live independently. The campus has a memory unit and in partnership with Providance Health and UCLA, it is reopening a nursing home. MPTF offers independent and assisted residential units, but also has an active outreach program into the community for those still living in their own homes. Resources include an interdisciplinary team that helps industry members with retrofits and improvements to make their homes safer. To get the modifications done, MPTF has built up a large cadre of volunteers -- who might do those retrofits, or perhaps they call homebound seniors through a Phone Buddy program, take them shopping (Shopping Buddy) or visit as part of the 'Friendly Visit' program. The campus also includes its own training programs in social work and student interns from nearby colleges like USC. And the MPTF Center on Aging (Neal Cutler, Executive Director) has launched the CASE (Computer-Assisted Social Engagement) Project to introduce easy-to-use software (including PointerWare) for older retirees.
Taking care of our own -- and leaving a legacy. This mission, enacted on such a broad scale, extends well beyond the boundaries of this campus, and is funded in perpetuity with contributions from successful leaders from the motion picture and television industry. I was given a book of life stories of those in the industry and heard from television studio director Jennifer Clymer how residents are writing new material for in-house television programs and telling their life stories on camera. To me, the entire operation seems to have few parallels. The military and Veterans Administration, of course, offer a similar full range of services across the United States, but I can't think of another industry with such a long history and infrastructure of taking care of those who served in that industry, rich or poor, famous or unknown. And without the geographic proximity that MPTF has, and the ongoing contribution from the nearby and well-healed current industry members (like Jeffrey Katzenberg or Michael Douglas, for example), it would be difficult to match the scale.
Communities, however, can do a better job of taking care of their own seniors. Culling the ideas and capabilities from MPTF, however, is completely feasible in every community (including CCRCs, NORCs, virtual villages, and senior living communities, as well as senior centers, councils on aging, and so on). First and foremost, a robust volunteer program that reaches into senior housing communities -- or the reverse, organized by those senior housing communities to find willing volunteers who live nearby -- for Phone Buddy, Shopping Buddy, Friendly Visit, recording life history, inviting in young people from nearby campuses or high schools, training seniors to use computers, etc., etc., etc. I asked at MPTF whether weekends on campus were dull places (as I've seen so often, when the activities program descends into its lowest gear) -- and of course they are not. Plenty of stuff is going on -- and why not?
V is for volunteer and video. This means you, your business, and where you live. All towns and housing communities are located where the volunteers-to-be are out there just waiting to be organized, students in high schools are just waiting to be engaged to gain their pre-college volunteer credits, life stories are waiting to be told, whether for the local newspaper, television, or even a glossy book like MPTF and Variety have produced. Imagine an effort to learn the former occupations of residents of CCRCs to find out that ex-fighter pilots, restauranteurs, magazine editors, waitresses, secretaries, doctors and nurses, executives, and plumbers are among them and would love to be asked to talk about their most unforgettable moments in their lives and work. And we're not talking about a TV studio: today you can record a life story with a smart phone...and time.