A Legacy of Care: Creating a Sanctuary for Marin’s Aging Population
In 1954, a compassionate group of Marin residents were concerned about the challenges faced by elders in our county. This was during a time before senior centers or services existed. Recognizing the hurdles of transportation, isolation, and nutrition for the aging population, this small, grassroots group created the Marin Senior Coordinating Council and aimed to ensure no one would be forgotten as they aged.
In 1950, there were 6,200 individuals aged 65 or older (7% of the population). The average age was 32.
With a vision to provide comprehensive care, the group initiated activities, transportation services, and resource assistance to enhance the lives of seniors. As the years unfolded, the organization evolved, eventually finding its home in the old San Rafael train depot in 1971, officially becoming Whistlestop.
By 1970, the number of seniors had grown to 15,184 (7% of the population). The average age was 30.
Amidst the decades that followed, the organization expanded its ride programs, nutrition services, and activities, adapting to the evolving needs of the county’s seniors. Eventually, the Whistlestop building transcended its initial purpose, transforming into so much more than a senior center. In its new role, it became the Healthy Aging Center—a haven, a beacon, and a community that supported a growing number of older adults.
In 2010, as the senior population reached 42,192 (13% of the population). The average age was 41.
By this time, the organization was challenged to accommodate complex needs within limited space and began to dream of creating a holistic community for older adults to thrive. What if there was a place in Marin County where a senior could attend an exercise class in the morning, then visit a doctor, have lunch in a vibrant café, and enjoy a seminar or workshop in the afternoon, all in one building? And what if this building was designed specifically for older adults, with intentional accessibility accommodations, rooms planned to host the classes that mattered most to our elders, and spaces to facilitate connection at every level? And what if we could include much-needed affordable housing in this new building? This was the dream our organization aspired to turn into a reality.
For over a decade, while the county aged, the organization diligently formulated plans for a new facility and reimagined the model of care for healthy aging while seeking out a new home. After exploring all possibilities, it realized the best opportunity to include all of the services that it had dreamed of was to construct a new building, culminating in the realization of the Healthy Aging Campus. Years of collaboration, plan submissions, and approval processes followed. To encompass its growing vision, the new campus, and the vibrancy it sought to bring to the lives of older adults, Whistlestop became Vivalon.
In 2020, with 64,200 individuals aged 65 or older (24% of the county’s population), the urgency to provide comprehensive care intensified. The older adult population surpassed those under 18, and it’s projected that those over 60 will outnumber people under 30 by 2027.
We are experiencing a shift in our community, and this dream—one that started decades ago and one that has evolved alongside our aging population—will finally materialize on January 2, 2024, when the Healthy Aging Campus opens its doors. Our new Healthy Aging Campus is a positive and essential step forward in fulfilling our mission and enhancing the well-being of Marin County’s older adults.
This new campus is not just a building; it is a symbolic representation of our unwavering commitment to supporting the vitality of our aging community. Together, we can ensure that the Vivalon Healthy Aging Campus becomes a beacon of hope and a testament to the values that make Marin County a caring and compassionate community.
Please join us on January 2 at 999 Third Street in San Rafael. We hope to see you there!
Learn more here.