Know Your Neighbor
Meet I Know Expo founder Gale Reece
By 2025, it is estimated that 24% of Fayette County will be 60 or over.
Although this Spring’s senior living I Know Expo has been postponed til August, founder Gale Reece is already excited about all the programming in store. More than 60 sponsors, exhibitors, and interesting speakers will gather in Lexington’s Senior Center in the heart of our neighborhood. (Hamburg Journal is a proud returning sponsor of the 2020 Expo.)
What might be new about this year’s Expo? Reece says, “What I expect the difference to be is the focus of the guests and the exhibitors —looking at a ‘new normal’ in our country and our aging. The crisis we prepare for is never the one we actually get, but if we all pull together, all generations, we will pull through this even stronger. Our elders remember other points of crisis —Pearl Harbor, Korea, Vietnam, Civil Rights Movement, 911, and the 2008 financial collapse just to mention a few. What we will look like as a country/world by August 22 is still to be seen, but we are a strong people as evidenced in our elders and the support services that are available to them/us.”
She says, “my hope and prayer is that by August 22, we can see the peak of the virus in the rearview mirror and plan for the future of our aging — appreciating each day and moment of our lives.”
Fifteen years ago, Reece left a small family business after 20 years, and says she asked herself, “‘What do I want to do when I grow up?’”
She explains, “My grandparents were a tremendous influence on me when I was young. I went to the city Director of Aging Services and she helped me to identify a need and find a program to start in Lexington – ITNBluegrass (senior transportation). It took a couple of years to launch (legislative change, raising funds and hiring a team). In July of 2008, we gave our first ride. Today, after almost 11 years and over 70,000 rides ITNBluegrass is going strong.”
The Independent Transportation Network® (ITN) is dedicated to providing dignified transportation. Older adults join ITNBluegrass and become dues-paying members of an organization committed to their mobility. When they pick up the telephone to schedule a ride, they are not asking a favor. ITNBluegrass is a nonprofit built to ease the transition from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat.
The crisis we prepare for is never the one we actually get, but if we all pull together, all generations, we will pull through this even stronger. Our elders remember other points of crisis —Pearl Harbor, Korea, Vietnam, Civil Rights Movement, 911, and the 2008 financial collapse just to mention a few.
As to how the idea for a conference developed, she says, “During those early years with ITNBluegrass, we noticed other needs in our membership. Adult children and members themselves called to ask about other elder services and we had no idea how to direct them. So, in 2012, we launched the i know expo to bring together caregivers, elders, and those with disabilities with services in Kentucky.”
The 2020 Expo will be the second year in our neighborhood. Reece says, “The Lexington Center was a superb location our first six years. Once the new Senior Center was built, the accessibility of the building and convenient parking made it far more favorable to our vendors and guests.”
Recalling success stories from the early years, she remembers, “Our very first expo in 2012, we had a pair of sisters caring for their father who was an ITN member. They cried as they thanked us for putting all these resources together in one place.”
She recalls, “an attorney, who is one of the most brilliant people I know, did not have a clue how to navigate the care of his mother in the first signs of dementia, living in her own home, and one of ITN’s first clients.”
And she can’t forget “an event coordinator who was struggling with her father and his growing dementia. He had been lost on the interstate driving to Tennessee during our planning. Now she was able to discuss her issues and concerns in one place, one time with professionals.”
Reece says, “What we are seeing as of a month ago, was older adults staying in the workforce much longer than in the past, many for financial reasons. In today’s world, there are not many people retiring with good solid pensions as past generations have had.”
One of the challenges we have had staying in the workforce is the speed at which technology is moving. When I was building our family storage business, we designed our own software with a local developer and did not dare touch anything on the screen other than as directed. Today, I do not think to play around with the software to discover what it can do. So it is a harder learning curve for us.”
But seniors bring unique assets in the workplace as well. She says, “What we bring to the workforce is the ability to apply past experience to solve issues, especially involving relationships with customers and fellow team members. This ‘wisdom’ comes with age and experience.”
She says, “Our challenge when this crisis is waning is restoring and rebuilding the workforce. I do not know how that is going to affect older adults. One thing I do know is that older adults are essential to our non-profit organizations and volunteer communities.”
The I Know Expo is scheduled for August 22 at the Lexington Senior Center. HJ will be profiling various vendors, exhibitors, and sponsors in the issues leading up to this year’s Expo.
This article also appears on page 20 and 21 in the April 2020 print edition of Hamburg Journal.
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