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Help Improve the Quality of Life for Society's Oldest Members

'When we help elder citizens, we restore society's heart'

"How are we going to resurrect our humanity?" This is the sobering question that Peter Yarrow — the "Peter" from Peter, Paul and Mary — asks a group of Woodstock-era grownups who are gathered in his Manhattan apartment. "We were the generation of protests and movement and revolution," he reminds us on this cold January evening. "We are working to fill a black hole of empathy."

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Specifically, we are raising money for LILY, Lifeforce in Later Years, a nonprofit founded by Irene Zola, 67, to galvanize people to improve the quality of life for society's oldest members. AARP The Magazine honored Zola with a 2012 Inspire Award. I've been a fan ever since.

Yarrow is a supporter, too. In between verses of "I'm in Love With a Big, Blue Frog" and "Puff, the Magic Dragon," the long-crusading folksinger explains that when we help elder citizens, we restore society's heart. New Yorkers are embracing the message. Thanks to LILY's efforts, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared Oct. 1, 2012, Love an Elder Day. Images of young helping old ran on city bus shelters, on phone booths and in a greeting card campaign. Zola hopes for a repeat in 2013. Wouldn't it be great if Love an Elder Day went viral?

Nurturing relationships — something I've been doing a lot of lately — can have unexpected benefits: I learned about Zola's worthy work, for example, from Erin Spira Broad, a good friend I've known since high school. She's a longtime LILY volunteer who, Zola says, "has a heart of gold."

And I attended the Africa Ball on Inauguration night as a guest of Oliver Litondo, the Kenyan actor whose starring role in The First Grader — the true story of a man in Kenya who fought for the right to attend elementary school at age 84 — won him an AARP Movies for Grownups award.

Finally, I was on hand for our rockin' cover shoot with Michael J. Fox, another former Inspire Award winner (and unabashed air guitarist), whose interview about the highs — yes, there are highs — and lows of living with Parkinson's disease complements a robust package of stories in this special health-themed issue.

As different as their backgrounds are, Zola, Litondo and Fox share at least one thing in common: They focus their lives on what is possible rather than bemoan what isn't. AARP's new tagline, Real Possibilities, underscores this same outlook. It's a positive approach that activist Peter Yarrow embraces. His famous song "If I Had a Hammer" refers to the hammer of justice. "As long as we have our hearts," says Yarrow, "there will be justice."

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