May Oka, a Thrive program leader at The Gardens at Town Square in Bellevue, has quadrupled attendance at the facility’s Bridge Club in the last 18 months. Photo courtesy of The Gardens at Town Square

Eastside Thrive program seeks to thaw ‘Seattle Freeze’

  • Tuesday, November 7, 2017 11:53am
  • Life

The Seattle Freeze is legendary with locals. Now, the Seattle Thaw is underway thanks to a group of senior citizens.

By engaging in acts of kindness and service in their neighborhoods – schools, the homeless, and families in need – seniors are ending the Seattle Freeze and potentially extending their own lives in the process.

These socially vibrant seniors are enrolled in a program called Thrive, offered at four senior living communities on the Eastside. Thrive was created by Era Living and uses evidence-informed protocols, many researched in partnership with the University of Washington, inside of Era Living communities, to help residents get healthy and stay well.

May Oka, a Thrive program leader at The Gardens at Town Square in Bellevue, has quadrupled attendance at the facility’s Bridge Club in the last 18 months because of her welcoming attitude.

“I love people,” she said. “There’s new people coming in all the time.”

After moving to The Gardens at Town Square, Oka started the Sunshine Committee to welcome others, and encourage a more robust social scene.

Oka said she’s recruited people to various classes and activities, including line dancing, mind matrix and more.

“As you grow older, you’re afraid to try something new, so it’s really important to keep launching programs or parties and sing together so the members feel it’s a fun place to belong to and that they’re apart of it,” she said.

Oka said she grew up on San Francisco’s skid row. Her mother instilled a deep sense of always giving a little extra. It helped Oka’s family survive and later thrive as Oka made her way through college and into her adult life. She taught business classes throughout her career. At one point, she was named National Business Teacher of the Year. Oka spent most of her adult life in Portland.

When Oka and her husband, Shugiro, moved to The Gardens at Town Square, they were new to the Seattle area and experienced some of the Seattle Freeze.

But she said she and her husband have been blessed in life, so her mission has been to pay that back.

“Our mission is to hug and greet everyone if they’re new or if they have a problem,” she said. “… Being here a year, we have not met one person that we didn’t just absolutely love.”

To learn more The Gardens at Town Square, visit

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