CAHC and S4S in "Autumn Years", Summer 2017
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Class helps build support system for North Jersey seniors
BY COLLEEN DISKIN
STAFF WRITER | THE RECORD
Commission on Accreditation for Home Care President Lita Talbot
giving a diploma to Miriam Tausner of Edgewater
after Tausner graduated from the
Senior to Senior advocate class.
CHRIS PEDOTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
They spent several long days in a conference room learning about the challenges older people face in North Jersey, and now these 11 senior citizens are geared up to work as advocates tackling elder abuse, increasing awareness of elder scams and trying to find more ways to bring comfort and company to older people living isolated lives.
The six men and five women who recently graduated from a class in how to become advocates for senior citizens are seniors themselves. A few are approaching or even past their 80th birthdays. But they are not past the point of being ready, willing and able to help others.
"What we need more of are seniors on the local level speaking up for themselves and for others," said Lita Talbot, a health care management consultant who served as one of the instructors in the "Seniors for Seniors" training program sponsored by the New Jersey Commission on Accreditation for Home Care.
Born to advocate
Julia Farrell, a 79-year-old retired welfare director from Dumont is among those who graduated from the class earlier this month. She thinks she has the passion and the background to become one of those much-needed voices on behalf of the vulnerable.
"I think I was born to be an advocate," Farrell said.
Farrell and other enrollees spent seven days over the past two months gathered in a conference room in Saddle Brook, taking notes and trading ideas as more than a dozen aging experts, government workers and politicians gave them tips on how they can start advocacy efforts.
Speakers covered a wide array of topics during the classes, from assistance programs to legislative strategies to troubling statistics, such as that one-third of people over age 75 have incomes below the poverty line. Not all the topics focused on the negative, with one unit discussing ways seniors can battle society’s overly negative views on aging.
After listening to the experts, those enrolled in the class were encouraged to pick topics of interests. The three groups that resulted intend to focus on preventing elder abuse, warning older adults about scams and finding ways to address the isolation of those who live like shut-ins.
"They came up with the ideas themselves," said Eleanor Frenkel, another consultant teaching the class. Frenkel said the point of the class was not to steer participants toward a particular cause but instead to let them identify an interest and educate them about how to form an advocacy team, communicate their cause effectively and engage others in the community.
"One of the things we’ve urged them to do is form coalitions and not go it alone," Frenkel said.
Each committee made plans to meet on their own after the class ended on May 10. The instructors will meet with the committees each month for the next three months – and then quarterly – to help guide them as they try to grow into bigger and more organized efforts.
Some of the seniors said they were still trying to determine how big of a goal to set for themselves and their newly formed committees.
"I’m not quite sure how far I’m going to go with it," said Marvin Golland, a 79-year-old retired management consultant who has joined with Edwina Hibel, 81, of Paterson, and Peter VanderMeulen, 69, of Rockland County, on the elder scam prevention committee.
"Advocacy is new to me." Golland said.
The three are experimenting with the idea of coming up with a wallet-sized informational card that would list common types of elder scams and information on how best to report them.
Maureen Italiano, a 69-year-old former cashier, hopes to enlist active seniors to regularly check in on others who are frail and isolated, much the way she and some of her neighbors at a Westwood senior apartment already do.
Italiano has joined with three others in the group, and they are still brainstorming ways they might be able to organize volunteer groups to check in on elderly residents living in high-rise buildings, who are especially vulnerable during bad weather or power outages.
"I was really glad when I heard there was a class like this because I’m aware of the many areas where help is needed," Italiano said.
During the five years that Italiano has lived in a subsidized senior citizen building in Westwood, she and a few other active seniors have formed an informal transportation assistance club, where they give their neighbors rides to the grocery, store, beauty parlor, doctor’s office and other places. She delivers meals to people in the building who can’t come to the communal dining room to eat lunch and also regularly checks in on those she knows to be in poor health.
"It would be great if we could find a way to get more volunteers to do things like that," she said.
Farrell said she would like to take a more hard-hitting approach to her committee’s goal of preventing elder abuse, perhaps starting a campaign to allow video cameras in long-term-care institutions as protection against abuse — an idea her fellow classmates found a bit controversial.
"I may just go with that idea on my own," said Farrell.
The Seniors for Seniors class, spread out across seven daylong sessions in April and May, is the first advocacy training program the home-care accreditation agency has sponsored as part of its community education mission.
Another class is tentatively planned for the fall. Anyone seeking information is encouraged to check for updates on the Seniors or Seniors website: S4S.online.