A new group in town is on a mission to prove that old is not a four-letter word.

Gaea Yudron, 66, founded the Center for Creative Aging earlier this year, she said, to help her peers embrace their senior status rather than internalize society's negative image of aging.

"In our culture, it's almost like 'Get out of sight, and you might just disappear until you're dead,'" Yudron said. "Even people who are intelligent and educated, they still unconsciously have taken in that kind of bias ... people don't have places to talk about the bias of aging."

Ageism is just as debilitating as racism or sexism, Yudron said. She hopes her new center will provide an outlet for her peers to counteract the effects of ageism, reflect on their lives and realize that they still have plenty to contribute to society.

Although organizations such as lifelong learning programs, senior centers and residential facilities cater to the same group, none of those address the "inner work" that Yudron says is a fundamental part of aging.

"I'm not criticizing people for being busy, but I would say that focus on outward activities may be a distraction from some of the deeper work of aging," she said.

Yudron has hosted three "SageWave Cafes" so far, where topics ranged from the spiritual power of elders to Carl Jung's seven tasks of aging. The center also sponsored a night of local elders reading their memoirs. Eventually, Yudron would like to gain nonprofit status, with a board of directors, an annual conference and perhaps some age sensitivity trainings for businesses.

The creativity aspect of the center could include documentary showings, painting and drawing or a theater group. The direction of the center will largely depend on its members, Yudron said.

Missing element

Those who have attended some of the workshops said the center is a much-needed addition to Ashland.

"Gaea manages to cut through the image of seniors as being fusty and covered in cobwebs," said John Fisher-Smith, who read his memoirs for the center and attended the first SageWave Caf&

233;. "She has brought together a group of people who are feisty, intelligent, inquisitive and really ready to put on the mantle of the elder."

Fisher-Smith, 81, sees his role as an older member of the center to show those just entering their elder years that they still have many years of vitality ahead of them. He lives in a solar home he designed himself seven years ago, prefers biking to driving, raises vegetables, attends dance and yoga classes and participates in a mentoring program.

Living through seven, eight or more decades provides elders with valuable wisdom to pass on to the community, and he said he wants more of his peers to recognize that contribution, he said.

"They have a broader view of history because they have lived through history and seen different events," he said. "I think the elder has cooled down a bit. They're not as hotheaded, and therefore they can be more temperate; no less passionate, but more temperate in their views and more accepting of others."

At 61, Elinor Berman is one of the younger members of the center who sees the possibilities of getting together with people like Fisher-Smith.

"There's a lot of potential for growth, movement, learning and even friendships also could come out of it," she said. "There's something about being with peers that just feels really wonderful."

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