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North America
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Aging, USA, Arizona, Retirees
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This project examines the issues and experiences of growing older in the Southwest region of the United States, aiming to to humanize and personalize this topic and sharing the wisdom, vivacity, cultural differences and struggles of Arizona's seniors.
Erika Schultz

2005 — student winner

Science and sheer stubbornness propel today's senior citizens to advanced old age. I will explore the diversity and culture within modern society's growing elder population.

In less than 50 years, the number of people more than the age of 65 will surpass the number of young people for the first time in the world's history. America's baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, will start turning 65 within the next five years. The population of people more than the age of 65 is expected to explode, and keep increasing until 2050. U.S. demographics are changing, and so are its people and cultural norms. Our mothers, uncles, grandmothers and neighbors are redefining how to live life to its fullest. They are becoming more diverse and leading longer, fuller lives than their predecessors. This generation is debuting a golden renaissance and carrying the note long after they blow out the 65 candles on their birthday cakes.

Nowhere is this more true than in Arizona. I will begin a project in spring 2005 to examine the issues and experiences of growing older in this region of the United States. I chose to humanize and personalize this topic because it is often overlooked by America's youth-based culture. I hope to share the wisdom, vivacity, cultural differences and struggles of Arizona's seniors.

This project will be divided into three sections. The first segment will record unique and compelling individuals, who live their lives in an extraordinary manner. The second segment will examine how different cultures in Arizona care for senior citizens. The final segment of the photo documentary will investigate the current issues individuals more than age of 65 face today. I plan to finish the first segment by May. With the help of the Alexia Foundation, I will finish the remaining sections.

In the remainder of the proposal, I will list stories I hope to capture:

•    Each spring, the annual Ms. Senior America Pageant takes place in Sun City, Ariz. The pageant is designed to honor women who have reached the "Age of Elegance."

•    The largest concentration of 100-year-olds in the United States lives amid southern Arizona's volcanic-rock and saguaro foothills. Tucson's 18th annual "Salute to the Centenarians" will take place in April.

•    Residing in the historic Fort Whipple VA hospital, a 60-year-old barber is trying to complete his master's degree.

•    An 86-year-old environmental activist calls Jerome, Ariz. her home. But this country western singer, poet, author and Colorado River runner truly feels at home in the Southwest's beautiful and uncharted wilderness.

•    There are an estimated three million lesbian and gay individuals in the United States more than 60, yet there is only a handful of retirement communities open to homosexual individuals. The Pueblo in Apache Junction, Ariz. is one of them.

•    In Flagstaff, Ariz., a Navajo medicine man delivers his traditional knowledge to indigenous college students, passing on the lessons and values of their culture.

•    Rising prescription drug costs drive Arizonans, many of them more than age of 65, to the small towns along the Mexican border to purchase lower-priced medicine.

•    Many social work agencies and private outreach groups are expanding their services to prepare elders for the last stages of their lives.

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Shirley Jean Goss, 65, and Joy Peter, 70, wait before entering the Ms. Senior Arizona evening gown competition dress rehearsal. The pageant, held in Sun City West, is designed to honor women who have reached the “Age of Elegance.” Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation
Near historic Route 66 sits the rural town of Ashfork, Ariz. Outside the city limits, workers extract huge slabs of sandstone rock for landscaping and building. For years, Welborn “Smitty” Smith lived near Ash Fork’s sandstone quarries— cutting hauling and chiseling rock. Today, he works as the nigh watchman at Levin Sandstone. In the above picture, Smitty walks near his home inside the sandstone rock yard. His dog, “Little Guy” chases behind. Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation
Norma Burns grabs her CD player after a water aerobics class at the Orchard Ranch RV Park pool in Dewey, Ariz. After the classes, Burns and other residents tan beside the pool. Many of the residents live in their RVs for part of the year. Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation
Angelo Famalaro rests while waiting for a doctors appointment in Prescott, Ariz. His wife, sometimes called “Saint Anne” by the residents, visits Angelo seven days a week. “I love him with my whole heart,” she said. “He’s just so perfectly sweet. If there were eight days a week I’d go.” Anne brought macaroons for the nurses this particular day. Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation
Shielding the sun with an umbrella, Anna Begay collects roots of plants found in the Arizona desert near her hogan. Her dog trails behind. Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation
Contestants perform at the Ms. Senior Arizona pageant in Sun City, Ariz. "It's a way of inspiring other seniors to achieve new goals, and look ahead and not think just because they are over 60 or retired that life is finished," said Winifred Dean, contestant. Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation
Welborn “Smitty” Smith sits outside of Levin Sandstone where he works as a nightwatchman. Smith, who has worked a wide variety of blue collar jobs throughout his life, is unable to retire. Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation
Angel Garay, 76-years-old, worked in the town of Nogales, Sonora for 30 years. His portrait was taken inside the International y Pesquerra Restaurant, an establishment facing the U.S./Mexican border. He advised future generations to know how to work and to not use drugs. Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation
Katie Lee — a songwriter, poet and adventurer —  is well known for her environmental activism for the Colorado River. During the 1950s— Lee, photographer Tad Nichols, and river rafter Frank Wright made numerous trips through Glen Canyon. The river voyages taught her how to communicate and learn about the outdoors — a passion she shares with the public today. Lee's toenails were painted during a recent river rafting trip. Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation
Anna Begay walks to the edge of Blue Canyon, the place of her birth. She was one of eight children born in the valley. According to her adopted son Andrew Yazzie, she comes from the Ta’neezahii, or Tannel Bush clan. Erika Schultz/Alexia Foundation