When they walk past, you notice their smiles. Two dozen people, ages 55 and older, are strolling through The Mall in Columbia together, some deep in conversation, others peacefully taking in the scenery at 9 in the morning.
They’re all members of The Village in Howard, a movement of seniors who aim to age in place in their own homes. Their sense of connection is deep: walking together, they are friends, caregivers, and care receivers for each other and for the wider community.
“I think of this as the therapy of walking and talking,” said John Salkeld, who convenes the weekly walks in the mall and around Lake Kittamaqundi. “We walk for 30 minutes in the mall, and we always do both floors.”
Sometimes drawing more than 50 people, the mall walks are one of many activities organized by the volunteers of the Villages of Howard. They also organize and attend presentations, most recently on electric cars and housing for seniors.
Exercise is a big part of their lives. Larry Fenton, who lives in the Residences at Vantage Point, said he comes because he loves both the people and the physical movement. “It adds to the wealth of my health,” he said.
Joy Cheung, one of the 12 founders who helped start The Village in Howard in 2015 by modeling it after other “Age In Place” Villages across the nation, said she wants the local organization to keep growing. The Village in Howard is in the process of hiring an executive director.
“There are 50,000 65+ seniors in Howard County and we only have 178 members,” she said.
At the mall, the conversations are often full of spark, intellect, and humor. From a retired cardiologist, to someone who worked for Bethlehem Steel for more than 30 years, to a retired nurse who is still deeply involved in promoting wellness in Howard County, they talk about issues that challenge the world.
“And we talk about books,” added Cheung, “We have four retired librarians!”