Advocates Work To Improve Future For Seniors

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Ardent advocates for senior citizens are launching a project to change the future of the low-income elderly.

With grants backing their efforts, Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, Elderbuilders, Gila Aging Services and Neighbor to Neighbor, brought 22 advocates from six counties together for an Americorps Volunteers in Service to America partnership retreat in the Rim country last week. Representatives were from Coconino, Gila, La Paz, Navajo, Pinal and Yavapai counties.

The retreat was coordinated by Sherlyn Harris, director and administrator for Gila Aging Services, Karen Bump, executive director of Neighbor to Neighbor, and Stephanie Jones, team leader.

"Our mission is to alleviate poverty among those 60 and older in rural counties," Jones said.

"We have a $300,000 grant from the Corporation for National Community Services to employ 21 VISTAs in three-member teams," Harris said. "The teams will include a community investment specialist, a technology development specialist and an economic-development specialist."

The tasks of the teams will be to develop the senior work force, train the elderly in the use of new technology, show the assets available in the senior population and create a supportive infrastructure where needed, Harris said. Work will also be done to develop partnerships with the business communities in the service area and elsewhere.

The grant is for a three-year period -- with $283,000 available each year -- and the plan is to have at least 10 economic-development projects in place throughout the service area, Jones said.

One of these projects -- "We're going to train seniors to use computers through a technology empowerment grant," she said.

Bump secured the technology grant. "It will be used to train seniors to access the Internet to learn about health and other benefits," Bump said. "For instance, there are websites seniors can go to and get some prescriptions for 50 percent of what they normally cost."

Two sites she suggested investigating are www.rxassist.com and www.benefitscheckup.com. There are some income restrictions and not all prescription drugs are available, she cautioned.

"When we have seniors trained to use the computer and they then help their neighbors with these skills, we will pay them a stipend and that goes toward improving their income," Bump said.

The technology grant will be used to buy computers to place in the day rooms of subsidized senior housing facilities, she said.

Other economic development projects might include development of markets for the arts and crafts talents of seniors, gift shops and small thrift stores, Harris said.

She said Payson most likely will benefit from improving the infrastructure available to seniors.

"There are only a few subsidized senior living facilities here and all of them have two to three year waiting lists," Harris said. By helping establish more senior communities, the project can give the low income elderly access to services and economic development opportunities, she said.

The retreat, March 10, 11 and 12, was an opportunity for the advocates to meet and get to know one another, share ideas that have worked for them, discuss how those ideas can be implemented in other communities and take the first step in a survey to establish the assets available in the senior community.

"Too often we survey for what is needed, this approach shows what seniors have to offer," Harris said. "Seniors have lots of assets to bring to the table."

For more information, call Gila Aging Services at (800) 322-2545 or Neighbor to Neighbor (928) 775-6145.

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