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janet and Mark Skeie

Janet and Mark Skeie, graduates of the U's Advocacy Leadership for Vital Aging certificate program.

Living and learning for life

From eNews, May 18, 2006

To many people, being old and being dependent are synonymous, but that belief is not supported by facts. Today, three-fourths of older adults report they are active and feeling healthy into their 80s, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging. These active, older adults are also seeking quality information and opportunities to maintain their well-being and stay connected in their communities.

The College of Continuing Education's Vital Aging Network (VAN) has become a valuable resource for those active, older adults. VAN challenges ageism stereotypes and provides resources that promote self-reliance, community engagement, and a better quality of life. The program is one of many outreach initiatives and research studies at the University that focus on health and well-being of older adults. (See "Further reading" below.)

Through its comprehensive Web site and monthly electronic bulletin sent to 1,100 older adults and human services staff, VAN provides a steady stream of reliable information to vital agers across Minnesota and beyond. VAN also hosts monthly forums in the Twin Cities featuring guest speakers on topics such as housing, transportation, spirituality, and continuing education. (See sidebar.)

"VAN provides information on a wide range of topics so that older adults know they have choices and can feel empowered to take charge of their own well-being," says Kris Orluck, VAN Leadership Group chair. "VAN's philosophy really sets it apart from outdated service models where older adults are viewed as a drain on society. We believe they are a vital resource to their communities."

One of its popular offerings is the Advocacy Leadership for Vital Aging (ALVA) certificate program, which is designed for adult learners interested in developing and practicing their leadership skills as advocates for vital aging. Students attend seven daylong sessions from September through April to learn about vital aging issues and advocacy systems. During that time, students are applying their newly acquired knowledge to individualized projects. Since its inception, the program has spawned more than 90 unique vital-aging advocacy projects throughout the state. Projects are as diverse as the students and the communities where they live. Take, for example, Amy Wilde and Janet Skeie, two students in this year's class.

"I was already a policy maker when I enrolled in this class," says Wilde, a Meeker County Commissioner since 1997. "I was looking for the big-picture, academic perspective on aging issues so I could make better, informed decisions in my community. In the end, I not only gained that academic perspective, but my project has--and will continue to have--a direct impact on my community."

Upcoming forums

On Tuesday, June 13, Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Velma Korbel will speak about "Age Discrimination" at the Roseville Library. On July 11, Marnie Hensel, a volunteer with Medicare in Minneapolis, will address "Attitude Aging and Fearlessness" at the Fairview Community Center in Roseville. For more information on both events, call 612-626-5555.

After analyzing data from a survey of senior citizens conducted in 2004 by the Dassel and Litchfield city councils, Wilde identified a shortage of household services in Meeker County and a lack of senior transportation services in Dassel. She focused her ALVA project on working through the Meeker Council to expand the chore services list and to create a promotion strategy to make residents aware of the services. She was also able to obtain additional transit service for Dassel.

Skeie and her husband Mark, who is a 2004 ALVA graduate, took an entrepreneurial approach to their joint project. Discovering that there was a lack of comprehensive and holistic retirement planning resources, they formed a limited-liability corporation to create a series of Mapping Your Retirement workbooks that cover time and purpose, health, and finances. The workbooks, which were inspired by Skeie's father--who regretted not properly planning his retirement--are unlike other retirement books that generally focus on financial planning. Skeie's workbooks encompass how to best use one's time and manage physical and mental health. Currently in production, the workbooks will be available at the end of the year.

"ALVA is really about helping individuals identify their passions and strengths and apply them to a community need," says Jan Hively, founder of the Vital Aging Network and mentor to students in the ALVA program. "It's inspiring to watch the ongoing work of the ALVA alumni as they collectively help create vital communities throughout the state."

The next ALVA class begins September 8. Registration and scholarship information is available at the Vital Aging Network or by calling 612-624-4000. The application deadline is July 11. All classes will be held at the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging in North St. Paul, Minnesota.

Further reading Preventing falls among elderly women. Looks like home, feels like home. From ELI to OLLI. As population ages, U center responds.