Each May, the Administration for Community Living celebrates aging through Older Americans Month. The message is simple: Getting older doesn't mean what it used to.
Improved healthcare and lifestyle habits added 30 years to Americans' life expectancy during the 20th century. The extra years have ushered in a phase of life where interests, goals and dreams often get a new or second start.
"Aging today is all about getting rid of outdated perceptions and living life in a way that suits you best," said Amy Thomas, executive director at PineCrest Retirement Community in Lufkin. "We see a great number of people in the older population living their lives with purpose and passion - and they continue to contribute to society in a variety of ways."
Mickey Dupré, 73, is a perfect example. For the past seven years, Dupré has volunteered at the local animal shelter and speaks with devotion and dedication to its mission.
"We lobbied the city to change the name to Kurth Memorial Animal Services & Adoption Center, because everyone thought of it as 'the pound' or 'the kill shelter,' and we wanted to move the mission toward a 'no-kill pet adoption center,'" she said of herself and other volunteers.
Mickey works toward that goal by serving as the shelter's official "dog photographer." She convinced her son, Sean, who teaches photography at Lufkin High School, to help her set up a photography studio at the shelter. The studio provides a way to showcase canines in the best light possible to improve their adoption chances.
"Last year we placed a stray German Shepard in Camden County, Missouri," she said proudly. "He's now a police dog."
Until a few years ago, dogs who arrived at the shelter wounded or ill were immediately put down. The staff and volunteers helped change this practice by establishing a Veterinarian Fund, which now helps hurt or sick animals regain health and become adoptable.
"The donations we receive have been able to save many dogs, including one that recently came in with two broken legs and was eventually adopted."
Generally, Mickey volunteers at the shelter three days a week, but some weeks you'll find her there six days. She also attends all of the shelter's adoption events to help advance the no-kill mission.
Mickey has even placed two pets with neighbors in the PineCrest Retirement Community where she lives. And naturally her own dog, Dolly, is a pet she adopted from the shelter.
Volunteering at the shelter doesn't take up all of Mickey's time, though. She enjoys the many social events at PineCrest, and she and her husband particularly enjoy the Wednesday night billiards hosted by another resident, John Woodside, who just turned 101.
Mickey is one of more than 40 million Americans aged 65 and older, and she's one of a rapidly growing number that continues to live an active lifestyle and contribute in a myriad of ways.
The 65+ population jumped 15.1 percent between 2000 and 2010. By 2030, the Census Bureau projects one in five Americans will be 65 and older. As their numbers increase, the good news is they will continue to make a positive impact on our communities through their experience, knowledge and willingness to share it with others.