Ep. 07: – Value of Being Part of a Community

Brighter Wealth Retirement

Intro about the episode:

Hi everyone and welcome to the Brighter Retirement Radio™ Podcast. In the latest episode of the Brighter Retirement Radio podcast, you’ll hear from guest, Gena Bertelsen, who shares how important it is to maintain personal connections with others in your family & community.

As the self-proclaimed “Queen of Everything” at the senior friendship center she works for, Gena ensures that the community always feels connected to one another by offering classes through their Brilliant University or daily communication with her and the 90 volunteers at the center. She also shares how she came up with the 2020 vision for the community center called the Perfect Happiness Program.


 >>Devin Peterson (00:00):

Devin welcomes listeners back to Brighter Retirement Radio and explains this episode hits on the core purpose of this podcast because it is all about making your retirement years brighter. He explains that Brighter Retirement Radio is not just a platform for him as an advisor to get up on his soapbox about the best financial planning techniques or proven strategies, but rather a collection of best practices that other charitable boomers are doing to make significant and measurable improvements to their financial, emotional, mental, and physical retirement experiences. For today’s episode, he had the pleasure of bringing on a guest by the name of Gena Bertelsen, a good friend of mine, and the community director, aka “Queen of Everything”, aka “Glitter Thrower” for the Orem Senior Friendship Center here in Orem, Utah. He explains that his intention today in this episode is that the interview about finding connection and community might inspire you to increase the connections of your own in your own community. As a bonus, Gena shares with us a program that she’s created in her community center that brings perennials joy. When we talk about perennials, we use that term as seniors or retirees. That’s a fun part of the episode. Instead of millennials, we have perennials, such a kind, amazing, meaningful, filled term. She put together a community program that helps perennials feel alive and continue to grow in their community. Devin welcomes Gena to the podcast.

>>Devin Peterson (02:54):

Devin advises that he is so grateful to have her here. He advised that he feels like he needs to go get a rockstar to spike up his energy because Gena is such an energetic person.

>>Gena Bertelsen (03:06):

Gena advises it’s a gift.

>>Devin Peterson (03:08):

Devin advises it definitely is a God given gift. He explains that in the podcast they are going to talk about the value of finding connections in the community. He explains that he first met Gena when he first got into financial service about eight years ago. He walked into the senior center and just wanted to talk to someone about community activities, classes, what you do there. He was introduced to Gena and thought, well, this is fun. He advised he wanted to be a part of this community because she made it so energetic and exciting to be there at the community center.

>>Gena Bertelsen (04:06):

Gena explains there’s a totally different feeling than other senior centers they’ve been to and she is so grateful about that.

>>Devin Peterson (04:37):

Devin explains that they will be talking about something that he thinks is extremely valuable and if all of us can understand a little bit more, he thinks we’d have a lot more enjoyment as our life progresses and we get older in all areas of our life. He asked Gena to share more information about her.

>>Gena Bertelsen (05:16):

Gena advised she’s been the program director for seven years. She just celebrated her seventh anniversary. Lucky number seven. In her personal life, her and her husband have been married for 33 years.  They have two fantastic kids, they’re amazing. One wonderful son-in-law who takes such good care of not only the daughter he’s married to, but looks out for the other one also. Nobody’s reproduced for them yet. They have two granddogs and a grandcat, but the familial resemblance is uncanny.

>>Gena Bertelsen (06:25):

She explains that she has 2 granddogs named Hank and Jaeger and a cat named Cheese. She also explains that she is a crazy chicken lady. She has a small hobby farm at her home and has half a dozen chickens and they’re all named after dinner. She has Teriyaki and Parmesan Chicken because when you come home and say what’s for dinner, you get the word chicken. Cacciatore, Malibu and Barbie and Barbie are short for barbecue and they have their own Instagram account. It’s called The Cluck Report.

>>Devin Peterson (07:07):

Devin explains that when thinking of the conversation about the value of connection in the community, he feels like Gena was perfectly positioned to answer this. He advised that everyone is trying to be bigger, better, brighter in retirement and it’s not just about making your finances better. It’s also primarily actually just about making your happiness better. He asked Gena, “What is the best way for us to view how to improve and be happier in your later years?”

>>Gena Bertelsen (07:59):

Gena explains several months ago she was doing some studying and trying to figure out the program for 2020 and 2020 is synonymous with perfect vision and she kind of came up with perfect vision, perfect happiness and everyone’s level of happiness is different to be perfect. She felt like there were basic components that would attribute or give you the tools that would increase your level of happiness. That’s what we’re focusing on for 2020 at the senior center. It kind of was spurred on from reading about this study that Harvard University did and it was the longest running study on living people and they started with actually over 700 people. Some of them had just started school at Harvard University and some of them were from kind of a lower economic area in Boston. They met with them every two years. They did blood tests, they did mental evaluations and they had interviews with them.

>>Gena Bertelsen (09:24):

Gena explains they really followed them and they followed them throughout their life. They still have about 60 of the original people who started. They’re in their nineties at this point and now they’re also interviewing their spouses and following their children and they’ll move on to their grandchildren. So it’ll be very much an intergenerational type of study. But the thing they found with all of that studying and all that testing was what they found that led to a happy life was social connections. Being able to have someone you could count on, someone that had your back. It didn’t matter if you were married or widowed or lived alone all your life. It mattered that you had a relationship and people that you could count on.

>>Devin Peterson (10:20):

Devin explains all of what culturally we think makes us happy like the car, the house, the bank account, the ability to go out to eat, the ability to travel, all of those things are a bit of a facade and it really comes down to these connections. He advised when a lot of us think about happiness into retirement, we think about it’s only going to be happy if my spouse is still with me to travel to Europe because we’ve always wanted to do that or is I’m only going to be happy if my children have 25 grandchildren and I’m able to do a date with them every other week. He advised based on what Gena is saying, connections don’t have to be just family members, those connections can be created elsewhere.

>>Gena Bertelsen (11:20):

Gena advises that yes and even more so now in our society, if you look back 30 years ago, people were living closer to their families. She advised that as her and her husband were raising their little girls, they were the first of four children to move away from her husband’s parents, meaning move further than a mile away. Every day they would walk up to see grandma and grandpa. She advises that now someone will get a job and it will be three states away. Our families, our biological families are kind of spread out so much more that you’re not having those family dinners. She explains that not people are just dropping in to see what others are doing, and texting and using the phone. She advises that that’s different than having a face to face conversation with someone saying your name or touching you on the shoulder. She also explains there’s actually an epidemic of the need of just physical touch for a lot of our aging population. She explains if they live alone, if they don’t have that physical touch, it actually can kill a person. Your social connections when you walk into my senior center, it’s something she tries to do with as many people as she can on a daily basis to say their name, talk to them, touch them on the shoulder.  Gena advised her oldest daughter is a dispatcher for the Sheriff’s department. She’s been there for 13 years and one of the saddest things she’s told Gena about her job is the people who live alone that don’t have family around that call several times a day just to talk to someone.

>>Devin Peterson (14:06):

Devin asks Gena, how do we find connection in our community then?

>>Gena Bertelsen (14:34):

She advised the first thing she’s going to tell you is to check out a senior center and it is what you let it be. She likes to tell people they accept even the lowlanders and have members from throughout the county. They even have members who live in Germany and when they are here visiting family, they come to our center, which is really great. One of the things they have at Orem Senior Friendship Center is called Brilliant University.

>>Gena Bertelsen (15:35):

She explains that it’s exclusive there in that they have two semesters a year and have classes that are pretty unique. Right now they’re currently in the middle of one of their spring semesters and we have a class called Break Free From Your Emotional Prisons. They have a class on literature, watercolor group, astrology groups and many other classes that help keep the community socially connected. Financial aid, we are not financial aid but learning how to do your finances. She advised that Devin has taught a few classes at the center and the residents always tell her they’ve saved so much money as they went through those and learned the skills that he taught them.

>>Devin Peterson (17:43):

Devin advises that from what Gena is explaining, it’s not about just showing up and having a few activities, it’s about really enriching your life through education. It is really seeking to find community and connection through doing specific activities, but make it interesting, make it valuable.

>>Devin Peterson (18:57):

Devin advises the first time Gena mentioned the word ‘perrenials’ it kind of blew his mind a little bit because of the analogy that we can drive between those.

>>Gena Bertelsen (19:06):

Gena advised it made her think about what really perennials do. And if you think about the roots system that it builds in the soil and it kind of protects your soil from eroding and it continues to bloom, it continues to grow. It has seasons in its life just like everyone does. It really just is the perfect word to describe somebody who’s aging into their senior years. We have the millennials, then we have the perennials. Those that keep coming back, they have a lot of experience. They’ve been there before.

>>Gena Bertelsen (20:13):

Gena advises that people come in and come up to the desk and say, I’m way too young to be here, but my daughter has brought me here. And she’ll say, well, how young are you? 94. And so she just likes to do some quick math and say, this is how many years you’ve missed out hanging out and having fun with us. Years and years ago, she remembers her grandparents going to the senior center to get cheese. Like the government would provide cheese for seniors and different commodities that way. That’s not what it is anymore. She explains 10,000 people every day are turning 75 years old in America, so number one, if you think you’re the lone ranger, you’re not, and all of these people are looking for connections.

>>Devin Peterson (22:22):

Devin asks Gena ,to find that ongoing connection in the community, does she feel like a lot of her members of the Orem Friendship Center come every day, every week? How consistent are those that have really liked thrown themselves into being a part of a community?

>>Gena Bertelsen (22:39):

Gena advises she  has about 90 volunteers and they are very, very consistent because they each have a purpose of what they take care of for her. She needs them and when you don’t feel needed, where’s your reason for living? In fact, the reason for living or even the reason for getting up in a lot of the studying she’s been doing for the perfect vision, perfect happiness program, one of the things she’s learned about was these groups in Japan. When you’re born, you’re not just born into your biological family, but you’re born into a Moai and it is a group of people. They’re not necessarily exactly your age, but they have your back. You go through life, this is your group. These are the people that have your back that will be there for you to celebrate or to cry but you do the same for them.

>>Gena Bertelsen (23:41):

She further explains that even in these groups, it’s understood that if, let’s say one of them won the lottery, it’s understood that they split it with everyone in their Moai. It’s not just for yourself. It’s for this group. It’s so strong. In fact, they were doing a study about the people who lived the longest, and they found these five different little epicenters across the globe. One of them was in Okinawa, Japan, and this little Moai that they were showing actually had 12 people still in it. The average age was 102, and they regularly get together, whether it’s over a meal, which that’s a great social experience. There’s nothing more basic and traditional than breaking bread with somebody. Whether it’s making or having a meal together or a shared activity or a hobby that they all enjoy or just visiting.

>>Gena Bertelsen (24:47):

She explains these are such important connections. So with the Moai they also have this term called Ikigai. And it is your purpose for getting up in the morning, your purpose for living. And it’s something that you look at what you’re good at, what you could make money out of or if you’ve retired, what you can share, what your passion is, and what the world needs. And when all of those things converge, the center of that is where you find what your Ikigai is. It was so beautiful to learn that. Now she wants to go to Japan.

>>Devin Peterson (25:33):

Devin thanks Gena for sharing and explains that’s powerful. He advises finding connections and our families are all obviously very natural, but not always accessible so finding connections in our community on a consistent basis.

>>Gena Bertelsen (26:02):

Gena explains you become an expert in things and to share what you know.

>>Devin Peterson (26:14):

Devin shares a little bit of his own experience. He’s taught a charitable giving class at your Gena’s community for a few years there and so he’s had hundreds of her members kind of come through her class and he’s been able to interact with them a little bit on a different scale. He’s been inspired by their willingness to take on a new thought process or a new process or think of things in a different way that we’ve absolutely been able to help some of those make some valuable changes. But as he thinks through a lot of the people that he’s met there, he would actually label them as a Sage. Perennial Sage because he feels like when he thinks of the word sage, he thinks of someone who has experience that has wisdom, has a lot to give and there’s a lot of people in those classes that he actually wishes he could sit down and have a few hour conversation with because there’s a lot of experience and wisdom that he could absolutely learn. And I think a lot of folks unfortunately wait to be asked about that wisdom. So he would imagine if someone was given a task and an opportunity and a purpose to share that you’d mentioned you have 90 volunteers, that’s a great opportunity. So on this topic of finding connection and community, as we’re speaking to our listeners, he would say reach out and ask for a responsibility. Think about what you’re good at and share what you’re good at.

>>Gena Bertelsen (27:52):

Gena explains volunteering is a great way, number one, not only to increase your happiness but to find a connection. And you might find that whether it’s a religious organization or other 501c3 type of organization. The Red Cross or United Way where you can volunteer and share some of your time that blesses so many people. It gives you that connection. She explains we get to a point where we retire and for years, maybe 30 or 40 years, we have had this work family that we’re connecting with every Monday through Friday. When you retire, all of that’s gone. She explains remembering reading one doctor saying that the two most difficult years in your life and most dangerous years are the year you’re born and the year you retire because you lose those connections when you retire. So you really had to be conscious about going out and filling in that time with the things you want to be doing that are going to get you up in the morning.

>>Devin Peterson (30:04):

Devin explains he likes how Gena describes it as a dangerous time. He advises you need to find or reconnect to your relevancy, your purpose, to maintain that level of happiness throughout. He explains he speaks with people that are a few years into retirement and they seem to always have this aha, which is, Oh, retirement is not just about moving closer to the beach and reading more books and golfing more rounds. It’s actually a lot different than I thought it would be, which is good that they’re coming to that realization, but how great would it be if they could realize from day one, I need to maintain relevance, I need to maintain my connections and this is how I’m going to do it. I’m not going to unplug. I’m not going to totally disconnect for a couple of years while I move down to The Keys. But I’m going to stay connected and they can continue to have that.

>>Gena Bertelsen (31:02):

Gena advises it is investing in yourself and you kind of have to put yourself on your schedule in a sense. Make an appointment with yourself. This is what I’m doing for me. This is what keeps me connected, keeps me grounded. Keeps me social.

>>Devin Peterson (31:22):

Devin asked Gena to share a little bit more about your perfect vision, perfect happiness. What inspired her to create that program? What inspired her to create that and then give us like a few nuggets of the outcome that you perceive from that program?

>>Gena Bertelsen (31:48):

Gena explains that she’s an idea machine so 2020 is synonymous with perfect vision and she sees a lot of her seniors that have lost that light and she wanted to give it back to them. She wants to find those claims of that little ember that’s still there and let them know it kind of empowered them to be able to do this. She explains that they’ve talked a lot together as a group about setting goals that are a whole year long and a couple people said, yeah I wanted to finish my house by myself on my time. And this man, one of her patrons, it’s incredible, he showed them pictures of this bathroom that he worked on for almost an entire year and he had taken these geodes and thousand year old coins and pieces, different kinds of wood and in the bathroom across from the throne because you know, I’m the queen, across from the throne he made this wall that is really this visually beautiful. And just the wall took him three months as he had been collecting these things throughout his life, but as he put them together as a puzzle to fit this wall, it was stunning. He did it all by himself and that was a goal for him. And she said, did you think about it every day? He said, well, yeah, I did. She said, did you work on it every day? He said, not every day, but I was still thinking about it. She said, was it worth it? And without fail, with every person that he had spoken about the goals they had set, everyone without fail said yes, it was worth it, they were worth it.

>>Gena Bertelsen (34:01):

Gena advises her biggest goal is that her kids are happy. She explains that she will feel as if she’s done the best job she could as a parent if they are happy.

>>Gena Bertelsen (34:59):

Gena explains that throughout the week, each day something is added to it to help build that level of happiness. They’re encouraging them. They’ve created pages that are journaling pages on Monday. She advised there’s a space to write the best thing that happened in the last 24 hours every day. She explains that they have told them that every night she lays down in bed and thinks about what was the best part of my day. The best thing that happened and now your brain is focused on very positive things. Another component that they’ve put into this was writing down three things you’re grateful for every day and not just writing down three things, but why are you grateful for those things and for the first month you can’t double up. She also encourages doing a random act of kindness on a daily basis. She explains they give everyone three ring binders and every day they’ve got this paperwork and they’re checking off what they’re doing and it’s just kind of guiding them through.

>>Devin Peterson (36:42):

Devin advises there’s some absolute intention that has to happen every day. He explains one of the misbeliefs that we have is we deserve to be happy just because we’re showing up every day in this world. Does that make you happy just to show up? He advises he thinks that this idea that we should be happy just because we’re alive is kind of a misunderstanding because happiness is a muscle. He advises it’s a skill that we learn that if we’re not happy as we can, as we do a lot of these into positive intentions and activities that you’re mentioning, we’re kind of getting some muscle memory and learning how to be happy. Devin explains he loves that about Gena’s program, that she’s just creating space for people to create action and start moving towards being happier. So 2020, perfect vision, perfect happiness. He asked Gena for any additional thoughts before wrapping up.

>>Gena Bertelsen (38:37):

Gena advises she was making a presentation and talked a lot about the Ikigai and your purpose and she likened it to finding your own tribe when you’re making these connections. She actually came up with a tribe, each letter can stand for something and the most important one that she can recall right now is the B in the word tribe. And that’s just to be brave. It’s hard to do something different. But once you’re there and you make that connection and you realize you’re needed, even if it’s just you and your personality, you are a gift on this earth. Share that gift to them. Keep it all wrapped up, let us unwrap it and just let it bless the world. But be brave.

>>Devin Peterson (39:34):

Devin asked Gena to answer the question of what makes her feel alive and relevant even outside of what she’s already shared.

>>Gena Bertelsen (40:07):

Gena explains she believes she was put on earth to make a difference for this generation. She takes that very, very seriously and puts a lot of thought and prayer into everything she does for them. She feels very guided that if she can make a positive difference in their life, if they walk out that door and they’re grinning, she’s done her job. That makes her feel alive.

>>Devin Peterson (40:58):

Devin tells Gena she is definitely full of life as she shows up for those perennials every day. Planting them. We love the pretty flowers. Devin thanks Gena for joining the podcast. He advises this has been a very valuable conversation for him to see his own happiness and connections in a new light and he’s sure that many of our listeners out there are going to listen to this and they’re going to pull something from this. It’s going to stir up something within them that will encourage them to improve some of the connections that they currently have or seek to find and build a few more. Be brave. Reach out.