Bebe Lavin

Bebe Lavin Headshot



When discussing the important things in her life, Bebe Lavin emphasizes two subjects in particular: (1) older adults need to participate in the community, and (2) her grandchildren are truly the most brilliant children to have ever walked the earth. While she offers plenty of evidence for both claims, we’ll focus on the former and take the latter for granted.

After a long career as an educator, Mrs. Lavin jumped into the role as a supervisor of a creative development program at the Jewish Community Center of Columbus when she was 62, introducing numerous innovative programs for participants a decade or two her senior. For instance, she started a monthly paper that was written for the older adults, by the older adults. She also invited a local poet to teach about the limitlessness of poetry, facilitating discussions about what the participants had always dreamed of doing and how they still might reach their dreams. For those who imagined themselves as stand-up comedians, they got their chance during the comedy hour Mrs. Lavin staged. Then there was the whirlwind of operas, orchestras and ballets to celebrate Jewish, Muslim, and every other culture’s holidays. Mrs. Lavin poured her passion and energy into her programs, with the result of bringing these same traits out of the older adults she served.

Compelled by the enormous potential of intellectually stimulating programs, Mrs. Lavin looked beyond Columbus, Ohio, for more ideas. Far beyond. With a grant from the Columbus Foundation, she travelled to Denmark, the world leader in creative programs, where she studied how government-funded institutions engage their older adults. With their bountiful resources, Danish institutions are able to offer exciting and stimulating activities such as woodworking and film editing. The following year Mrs. Lavin was in the Middle East, observing the way Israel engages its citizens later in life.  She has used her inspiration from abroad to implement as many creative programs as her budget would allow.

Small budgets are only one obstacle for domestic programs, notes Mrs. Lavin. She has noticed from her travels and from her conversations with her Indonesian daughter-in-law that older adults around the world receive respect and appreciation from younger generations that you just don’t find in America. Laughing, she says, “Here, if a kid doesn’t backtalk you, you think there’s something wrong with him!”

Now retired from the community center, Mrs. Lavin continues to encourage older adults to participate in their communities through her newspaper columns. She is clear, however, that it’s a two-way street: not only do older adults have to make the effort to get involved, communities have to make the effort to involve them as well. She expands on this point in her books Everyone Has a Story and Life Beyond Bingo. “Not that I have anything against bingo,” joked Mrs. Lavin, “I don’t want anyone from the bingo industry suing me!” She just feels later life should be the time to live out the dreams one might have shelved earlier in life for various reasons--and brag about brilliant grandchildren, of course!

Written by Adam Gallagher

Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 01:47PM

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