Today’s -ATE word is CONGREGATE.

Congregate means to come together, usually for a purpose. How do seniors congregate? Does North Carolina in particular accommodate seniors’ need to socialize? Can you think of a place you have met others to simply spend some time together? Will our increasingly digital world allow our seniors, for whom isolation is at times an issue, to congregate beyond forums and feeds? As senior advocates and senior case managers, we must address these questions.

Let us entertain the concept of a “Third Place.”  No, not the outcome of little Jimmy’s team in the tourney, but consider the sociological term (hmm, socio + logical). A “Third Place” refers to social places which are separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace.

The term Third Place was coined by Ray Oldenburg in his book “The Great Good Place.” Oldenburg tells us that third places are important for civil societydemocracycivic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place and belonging.

big stock - Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 3.00.17 PMThe “first place” is the home, and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace, where you and coworkers may actually spend most of your time. “Third Places” are then our community anchors, places where life is fostered through broader, more creative interaction. These are where seniors congregate most often. So, these places are where we have to determine if seniors’ needs are being met.

Third Places are different from the first or second because we go to them in our in-between time – their voluntariness is what makes them so special and unique.

An article published in Psychology Today outlines some Third Places: England has pubs, France has cafés, and Austria has coffee houses. While our country was young common third places were country stores, post offices, barber shops, and taverns. Remember TV Westerns with their familiar saloon scenes? Television today shows Americans congregating in the bar across from the work site or meeting at the latest trendy restaurant. But, as these venues grow more and more popular, are they providing easy access for seniors and products seniors want?


In the past ten years, coffee establishments have satisfied the inner need of Americans for a third sanctuary. Society has always had meeting places; what’s interesting is to realize the intentionality of seeking them out.

But isn’t our society is becoming mobile, you counter? People increasingly telecommute, purchase goods online for front-door delivery, and connect virtually for work and for pleasure. One wonders if the deep-seeded need for sociality will persist. Dates, meetings, and other social get-togethers may live on, but where? I became alarmed. Are we as an aging society to lose, or deny our Third Places? Will the digital connect become the great disconnect? Will seniors be left out of the equation?

For me, signing into Foursquare may not be a priority I do recognize generations of folks are using mobile devices to let friends know where they are, and what they are doing (perhaps a new way of intentionally seeking out..?). We seek a Third Place. We want to congregate. Seniors want and need to congregate.

I reflected briefly upon my own Third Places growing up. There were after church coffee socials. From the age that our vantage point was among the hems of our parents’ coats we would race between them, off to the swing sets until our parents decided it was time to leave. Nearly every school in existence has an after school hangout. Entering the adult world we took this need to congregate to the workplace.

The proverbial water cooler at work has morphed into fashionable coffee areas, flexible work areas and fitness centers. International and local companies are recognizing the power of the Third Place. It may not be about the “coffee”, but more about the “break”.

So what are some other current day Third Places?  Kids’ sports teams present terrific socialization opportunities (and memories of pizza parties afterwards), and how about the adult bonding on the sidelines or in the bleachers? Where do you congregate? Places of worship, civic clubs, volunteer sites? These are the same places seniors enjoy congregating. We must make sure these places provide adequate resources so seniors to continue to be present and active at the Third Place.

At my local Senior Center (er, Center for Active Adults) the Pickleball smack talk is playful, as is the camaraderie on the sidelines. PTA’s and church groups come to mind, as does a craft class at back of an art store. We build huge arenas, town squares and cozy amphitheaters for town festivals. We see sporting venues, pet-related events, and book stores with coffee shops and book signings. One can easily spot a social hub on college campuses. And haven’t we come to expect playful banter within the hair salons and barber shops of America?

During this year’s snowstorms I saw news footage of families sledding during a rare accumulation in Fayetteville, NC. I recognized the place as the old Rowan Center now called Festival Park. Back in the day my friends and I as teens were dropped off by slightly unnerved parents for teen dances and for the first-ever (in Fayetteville, anyway) “Be-In”, an outdoor rock concert. (We were there to simply “be”, and we were oh so “in” to be, there). I am glad to see the space lives on with healthy congregating. I am sure there are seniors who like to visit, remember, and enjoy the ongoing activities.

Probably the most familiar (albeit commercial) example of Third Place is the coffee shop. Not by coincidence there is one right in my neighborhood called Third Place. Nowadays it doesn’t feel strange at all to go to a Panera for a few hours in the afternoon to catch up with a friend, study or work even if it’s between meals – it feels normal.

But let’s not kid ourselves. There are dilemmas associated with Third Places. An Op-ed piece published in Northern Virginia Daily [] author Froma Harrop points out that there are definite and measurable business losses involved (willingly absorbed by some) at some Third Places. They lose money when we don’t buy. Some may want us to leave. Harrop suggests that the responsibility needs to be shifted to the community to provide a Third Place. While doing this, politicians, civic leaders, senior advocates, senior case managers, and church leadership should be involved and consider the needs of seniors. Taking care of the elderly is all of society’s responsibility.

If we think about it our society may not extinguish our Third Places at all. Planners are responding to our (aging) society’s need to congregate. Third Place is preserved when we incorporate the concept into our communities, schools, churches, parks and workplaces. City planners are mindful when designating spaces for the creative arts, family-friendly events, and environmental green spaces from bike trails and green ways to rooftop gardens.


So it’s about planning, and response to the need. Planning for aging citizens, performed by folks who may not even be aware of our personal scenarios is already taking place. Consider some your participants: urban planners, town mayors, architects, legislators, healthcare providers, retailers and volunteers. Think about all the folks whose mission includes improving the outcome for our seniors, in the field for service delivery, in meetings and in training to stand ready for us. They are being responsive to the needs.

A large part of a Senior Advocate’s work is to ensure that needs are met. As an Advocate I feel my duty is to ensure that the ways and means for Third Places are preserved. Let us speak out when we see barriers to congregating, whether those barriers are structural, financial, or political in nature, or if planning seems to lack vision.

Personally, I feel compelled to enter any discussion involving disparity, lack of access, or the nonexistence of a resource for our seniors. I work hard to connect, propone, propel, bang the drum, educate, discuss, debate (an -ATE word, to be saved for another post, I expect), and generally raise awareness of issues that affect seniors.

Here at NAVIGATE NC we are committed to building and preserving community. We work to normalize aging. We connect people to resources. We build and preserve communication between families across the miles from NC to anywhere. We get people talking. We know how seniors congregate.  We want to CONGREGATE with you.

navigate-nc-senior-care-advocateWant someone in your senior’s corner to connect, to build, preserve, and to plan? NAVIGATE NC offers a FREE initial consultation. If you need help, or simply want to talk about how we can, please Connect With Us [ ] or call us at (919) 628-4428.

Image Source: BigStock

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