Juniper counts down to Burning Man

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Detail from the banner that will identify the entrance to Camp Aging Insurrection.
Detail from the banner that will identify the entrance to Camp Aging Insurrection.

In a little more than a week, 17 people will begin gathering in the Nevada desert to fulfill a vision first broadly vocalized almost a year ago at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care fall conference.

It was there that Lynne Katzmann, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Bloomfield, NJ-based Juniper Communities, fired up meeting attendees by proposing a trip to Burning Man as part of a larger awareness campaign that the senior living industry could create to “repaint the picture and write a new story of aging in America.”

“Think of it: An intentional community of older adults and senior living folks joining the millennials to show that we are them,” she said during her NIC Talk. “We're all individuals who just want the same thing: To be alive in all seasons of life.” (Click on the NIC video below to watch her whole presentation.)

And so now Katzmann, her 84-year-old mother, four Juniper employees and others involved in senior living will become part of an expected crowd of more than 65,000 who are “in the pursuit of a more creative and connected existence in the world,” as organizers of the 40-year-old outdoor festival put it, Aug. 28 to Sept. 5.

“Burning Man is a great way to not only share our views on aging, but also to demonstrate that mature adults are people — people who enjoy music, art, intellectual conversation and adventure at all ages,” she said. 

“It's been an adventure” already, Cindy Longfellow, the company's vice president of business development, sales and marketing, told McKnight's Senior Living.

Juniper will have what is known as a theme camp, which will be named Aging Insurrection: Joining the Generations 2016, Longfellow said. That camp will partner with another theme camp — Enchanted Charcuterie, which has about 60 members, including Katzmann's nephew — to form a so-called village.

“We were so fortunate,” Longfellow said. “Lynne's nephew has been going to Burning Man for a number of years … so we have been able to rely very heavily on their knowledge and expertise.”

Combined, the two camps will include people in their 20s to people in their 80s, Longfellow said. “Our oldest camper is 87,” she said. “We've got a number of kids and parents, which is cool.”

Over the course of the gathering, Longfellow said, the Aging Insurrection camp will take a figurative torch to perceptions of aging by hosting two formally scheduled events as well as some other interactive activities.

“We're really excited about allowing people to participate in different ways in the whole discussion process,” she said.

At one of the scheduled events, an intergenerational coloring party, participants will be able to paint large murals as well as the camp's structure and bike racks, plus enjoy a peanut butter and jelly bar and other food. Children from the KidsVille camp and their families will be bused in, with the camp providing coloring books for those who can't attend.

“I'm really excited about that,” she said.

Juniper's other scheduled event will be The Insurrection Salon, including a “wisdom hut,” “listening post” and cafe that will be open at other times, too.

The wisdom hut, Longfellow said, “will have opportunities for people to share in a written fashion their responses to questions that we'll use to spur creativity, like, ‘Have you ever experienced ageism? What does it mean to you? What do you think you'll be like at 100?' ”

The hut also will include white boards on which people will be able to draw or write their thoughts, as well as a cargo net with various colored ribbons that people will be able to cut off, write their thoughts on and then tie to the cargo net, which will serve as an art installation in the camp.

The listening post will offer participants the opportunity to record via audio or video their thoughts on aging, and the cafe will offer a place for wide-ranging discussion about aging and related topics.

“And of course we'll have our elders available for advice and conversation throughout the week,” Longfellow said, although Juniper residents will not be among them.

“The reality of Burning Man is that it is an incredibly rigorous and difficult environment,” given the heat, blowing dust and wide temperature variations of the desert, she said. “And the entire city is 10 miles across, so it is huge, and the only way to get places is walking and biking,” Longfellow added, noting that Juniper, however, was able to apply for a permit from the festival's “Department of Mutant Vehicles” to enable the camp have a golf cart on site.

If Juniper decides to attend Burning Man again next year, Longfellow said, the company may invite its independent living residents. “But not having been there before, we decided that it was probably best to err on the side of caution” for this year, she added.

Longfellow said she and the rest of the future “burners” are looking forward to this year's experience. “I'm told that you will either go and want to go back every year for the rest of your life or go and say, ‘What the hell was I thinking?' and never go again,” she laughed. “So we'll see which camp I fall into.”

It was at this NIC Talk during the 2015 National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care fall conference that Juniper Communities founder and CEO Lynne Katzmann, Ph.D., first vocalized the company's desire to go to Burning Man:

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