Henry Kenney III is an AARP Maryland Communications Intern and graduate student at Georgetown University.
On November 29, I had the opportunity to interview Shawn Perry, founder and host of the popular radio broadcast The Senior Zone. The Maryland resident is using his platform to reshape and positively influence the lives of seniors and older adults in the DMV area.
The Senior Zone’s first broadcast was on November 12, 2012, and for over six years now Shawn has been using his show to inform and educate seniors that listen in. Every Monday morning at 10 am, listeners tune into WYCB 1340 AM to be informed and educated. He even gets listeners from across the country that tune in via myspiritdc.com.
Learn more about The Senior Zone by visiting theseniorzone.com
The mission of The Senior Zone is to increase the business of caring for the most vulnerable and expanding population: seniors. Shawn believes that caring is one of the most important things people can do to empower this group, and that caring is “meaningless if it’s not actionable.” He started The Senior Zone because he cared and he saw a need. Around the conception of the show, he saw a population that he was serving in Washington D.C. that was underserved, and he wanted to do something.
“Not knowing what that something was, I just started where I was and have built on that since then,” - Shawn Perry
The “population” he’s referring to isn’t just seniors, it’s groups of people that are in low-income areas in DC and southern Maryland. Some of the problems in this area include the lack of reliable transportation, fresh food, and affordable housing. “My own family is dealing with the same thing,” Shawn noted. He saw a “gap in communication” between those populations and well-intentioned organizations like the DC Office on Aging, AARP, and LeadingAge. The birth of The Senior Zone stems from wanting to narrow that gap in communication. Shawn also has a background in Medicare and working for many health care organizations like United Health Care, MedStar Health. Being apart of those organizations gave him an inside look into the communities he set out to serve.
Shawn couldn’t fathom himself on the radio. He is a self-proclaimed introvert, however, his tenacity and passion over the airwaves and while MC’ing events easily extinguishes any flames of doubt or nervousness. “I had the idea of The Senior Zone in August of 2012 and was intentional to have it start on November 12,” Shawn exclaimed. As a retired military officer, serving nearly 22 years in the U.S. Air Force, Shawn wanted to pay homage to veterans and his military background by having the first show the day after Veteran’s Day. For the first six weeks of being on the air, he recalls only talking about Medicare. Since then, he has talked about everything from caregiving and transportation to topics like “Turning Hopes Into Outcomes” and “Jobs after 50.” He turned his show into a place where seniors can go to get a wealth of knowledge and resources that will make aging a whole lot easier.
In his efforts to provide the most useful information, Shawn has had the opportunity to interview many leaders and representatives from various organizations that have the health and well-being of seniors in mind. A few of the people he’s interviewed include Leslie Fried, senior director, National Council on Aging; Hank Greenberg, state director, AARP Maryland; Stu Rosenthal, publisher, The Beacon; Ellie Hollander, president and CEO, Meals on Wheels America; and many others from local and national organizations. He says The Senior Zone was the key to being given “access to information and to people he wouldn’t have been able to meet before.” He says he is still waiting to interview JoAnn Jenkins, CEO, AARP, one of his dream interviews. Let’s hope she finds her way to this article!
Of course, the drive and hard work for advocacy doesn’t just spring up unfounded. Like many advocates, something or someone in their personal life sparks something profoundly deep within them. For Shawn, that “someone” was his late grandmother, Rosa Lee Perry whom raised and cared for him during his formative years. Shawn attributes his reverence for older adults and his personal values to his grandmother. He distinctly remembers the lessons of chivalry and "integrity first" that she instilled in him during these early years.
When asked what he enjoys most about The Senior Zone -- parties, interviews, or the people, Shawn’s response was simple: “Just the love that I get.” Shawn is very appreciative of all of the love and care that he gets from supporters and people in the community. He even jokes that he gets more love from his loyal listeners than he does at home. “It -reinforces all that I’m doing already,” Shawn says with a large grin.
"The love and support that I’ve gotten from the people I’m trying to serve, as well as organizations such as AARP, the DC Office on Aging, the political figures in DC, Montgomery County as well... they have made all of this worthwhile.”
Shawn is very in-tune with his community and what he’s trying to convey to the people that matter to him. At the end of our interview, we talked about the importance of caregiving. He stressed the need of starting the conversation with a loved one that may need caregiving assistance sooner than later. Shawn is a major advocate for caregiving, disrupting aging, and fulfilling the needs of older adults, all through his radio show. Be sure to tune into The Senior Zone, every Monday at 10 am on DC-area radio station WYCB 1340 AM for refreshing and vital information to make being 50+ easier and more fun.