This year, “2010,” is the year of the engaged older adult. The idea is to celebrate the contributions of older adults and expand civic engagement of all ages. As the baby boomer demographic becomes “older adults,” we have many people to learn from and many people to “engage” in community life.

This year, “2010,” is the year of the engaged older adult. I did not make that up. Someone in the governor’s office did.

My local community college (Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., www.rockvalleycollege.edu) catalog states, “Generations Serving Generations stems from the National Governor’s Association (NGA) Project on the Civic Engagement of Older Adults. Illinois is one of 14 states selected to participate in the project designed to improve the health and lives of older Americans, while increasing their involvement in service, learning and work.”

The idea is to celebrate the contributions of older adults and expand civic engagement of all ages. As the baby boomer demographic becomes “older adults,” we have many people to learn from and many people to “engage” in community life.

I envision other cultures, scenes from movies, where the older gentlemen gather around chess boards in the outdoor cafes and the younger boys collect knowledge simply from spending time with them.

It happened organically, the passing on of stories and wisdom. The desire of the young boys to grow up like them was natural. The older generation was engaged, respected and revered. They were the patriarchs until death.

Now the generations have become more separated and isolated. Older folks hang with older folks, and young ones hang with their own age group. Not much co-mingling going on. The given of respecting our elders and looking to them for wisdom and guidance sometimes feels like an antiquated notion.

But maybe I am getting off the track. This Generations initiative is designed to improve the lives of older Americans. That is a worthwhile cause. My community has a plethora of enrichment courses for older adults. I teach workshops at our local college and Center for Learning in Retirement. There are many courses I would like to attend myself.

Keeping the mind, fingers and body nimble is good for any age. They’ve told me that I do not have to be retired to partake of their classes. Native American Spirituality interests me. A tour of a local historic district appeals to me. Tips for traveling alone grabs me.

I peruse the community education catalog and that, too, offers several classes that catch my eye. Maybe I could try Chinese brush painting, pet first aid, or “Instant Piano for Hopelessly Busy People.”

There are music classes, learn a language classes and introduction to biodynamic agriculture. I can learn woodworking, the hip-hop hustle, and the medicinal properties of culinary herbs. I can attempt basket weaving, belly dancing and blues guitar.

I understand that “we” want to engage the older adult. We need to get our elders out of the house and into active community life where they can feel fulfilled and growing and learning; and where they can share their experiences and expertise.

My wish is that 2010 be the year of the engaged adult period, no qualifier as to age. Instead of going home after work to watch mindless television, take a community education workshop. There are no tests, no grades and no homework.

Keep the mind, body and soul active and engaged no matter how old you are. If you feel renewed energy, you may inspire another to do the same. Then the ripples begin. Who knows? Maybe even “older adults” will play games with the younger generations. They just might be able to teach them a thing or two.

Kelly Epperson is a contributor to The Journal-Standard in Freeport, Ill. Write Kelly at www.kellyepperson.com or kel_epperson@yahoo.com or PO Box 2324, Loves Park IL 61131. This column is the opinion of the writer and not of the newspaper.