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July 17, 2007 > Pathways to Positive Aging

Pathways to Positive Aging

Visit to Washington, D.C.

Submitted By Mary Anne Mendall

Janet is a dutiful daughter with 80+ year old parents. Her mom has Alzheimer disease and her dad is in the hospital recovering from his second heart attack. They can no longer live independently. Janet's lifestyle and her 1400 square foot home cannot accommodate her parents' needs, given that two of her children are still living at home and both she and her husband work full-time. The hospital discharge planner is strongly urging that her parents be moved to a nursing home. Janet's parents consider this a death sentence, yet this is the only option that Medi-Cal will cover. Surely there could be other alternatives. Unfortunately, this scenario is common, one faced by many families, and one that can only be solved by a change in public policy.

Limited alternatives for long-term care, the increasing cost of health care and the lack of affordable housing are of major concern to many of us. For some, traffic congestion, potholes, or the quality of public education are of primary importance. We all have a passion for particular issues that may appear to be out of our control. How do you see your role as a citizen? Is it limited to exercising your right to vote? Do you hear about great ideas being implemented elsewhere and wonder why they aren't implemented here? Do you often wonder what more you can do as a citizen?

On May 8-9, 2007, Mary Anderson, Chair of the Tri-City Elder Coalition (TCEC), and I traveled to Washington DC under the auspices of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to meet with our US Senators and Representative and describe the cutting edge work of Pathways to Positive Aging. We were one of about twenty RWJF funded projects invited to participate. Our mission was to share the exciting progress of the Tri-City community, working to create an environment where seniors have an opportunity to make choices for a healthier future. Surrounded by monuments to the men and women who made this country great, awed by the hustle and bustle of congressional offices, and keenly aware of the power we place in the hands of elected officials, we could not help but feel proud and excited to have the opportunity to share our ideas with those who represent us.

In preparation for the meetings, we attended two days of workshops and coaching on how to use our capacity as citizens to build relationships with elected officials, how to share with them the real life stories that drive our passion and ways to educate them about best practices that they may want to consider endorsing. We were encouraged to educate our elected officials and their staffs about the challenges faced by older adults and some of the exciting solutions emerging around the country. Here are some of the lessons we learned.

Tips for meeting with elected officials:
Before the meeting
* Do your homework: Become familiar with the interests of the elected official by visiting his/her website, reading articles, and becoming familiar with causes and legislation the official supports.
* Make an appointment to meet with either the official or staff assigned to your area of interest. Meeting with staff can be as effective as meeting with the legislator.
* Decide on what you want to ask of the official.
During the meeting
* Make a connection: when you meet, introduce yourself and your project and remind the official of any contact you may have had in the past or an interest you may share.
* Tell a story that brings home the issue you wish to discuss.
* Make a specific request. Requests can be as varied as asking the official to speak at an event, to write a letter of support to a potential sponsor, to speak to someone on your behalf, to sponsor an event, to mail something to his constituents, or to propose or vote for a specific piece of legislation.
* Define next steps and collect contact information for carrying out your request.
* Leave behind a one page summary of your issue.
After the meeting
* E-mail or send a brief thank you note.
* Follow up with a letter and reminder several weeks after the event.
* Follow up with staff on making your request a reality.

Our first meeting was with Congressman Pete Stark, who on May 17th read an acknowledgement of Pathways to Positive Aging into the Congressional Record. He agreed to prepare framed copies of the document for presentation to our Board members at our June Recognition event. We also met with aides of Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. The aides listened intensely and were eager to agree to our requests or suggest alternatives to help define next steps.

We learned a lot about effective advocacy in D.C. Most of all, we learned that there are many ways to exercise our rights as citizens. We plan to share these lessons and skills with community volunteers who would like to become advocates for seniors. Pathways to Positive Aging will be conducting a series of workshops starting in August for individuals who would like to work with local representatives to create a community responsive to the needs of seniors. These advocates will meet twice a year with elected city, county and state officials.

If you are interested in being trained as a senior advocate, please contact Mary Anne Mendall at


Mary Anne Mendall
Administrator, Aging and Family Services
City of Fremont Human Services Department
3300 Capitol Avenue, PO Box 5006, Fremont,
(510) 574-2062

For more information about Pathways to Positive Aging, visit the Tri-City Elder Coalition website at

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