Foundation wants to teach seniors how to stay involved

By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer

HIGHLAND HILLS, Ohio (AP) - The Cleveland Foundation began a three-year, $4 million project Tuesday to show seniors how to stay active and teach communities to value the contributions of the elderly.

As a community foundation, the work will be based in the Cleveland area, which has a 15 percent senior population, second highest outside the Sun Belt, according to the foundation.

The "Successful Aging Initiative" was outlined at the eastern campus of Cuyahoga Community College during a daylong forum for more than 100 people who work with senior citizen programs and agencies.

The foundation will select five pilot communities to study ways to get the elderly involved, such as transportation that follows doctor appointment schedules and street signs with larger letters.

"We want to establish ourselves as an elder-friendly community," said Stacey Easterling, a foundation program officer.

The program will include grants to promote senior activities and volunteerism, public service announcements, community surveys and coordination with local government programs for the elderly.

The goals include better information on programs available to the elderly, a model community plan on senior programs and heightened awareness of the contributions they make.

Ruth Shaeffer, 79, drove more than 40 miles from her retirement community in Oberlin to share ideas. She also picked up some, such as a suggestion for computer-based courses for the homebound elderly.

"I'm going to keep on going as long as I can," said Shaeffer, who works with fellow residents of her retirement community to plan outings to performances at nearby Oberlin College and in Cleveland.

"We're open to new ideas," Shaeffer said during a break in the forum.

She said the foundation program should try to get inactive seniors more involved. "We have to do more in terms of contacting these people and intrigue them" with opportunities, she said.

May L. Wykle, dean of nursing at Case Western Reserve University, said senior-friendly communities must promote health programs and have integrated health care so a senior doesn't need to see doctors in four locations.

Senior-friendly communities also must promote connections between people, not simply provide activities, Wykle said.

"It's not the line dancing, it's the meeting of people," she said.

The keynote speaker, Marc Freedman, president of the San Francisco-based Civic Ventures, which studies issues on aging, suggested that a new definition of retirement was needed to take into account the desire of people to slow down their pace while keeping involved in activities.

"What we're doing is inventing a new stage in life," Freedman said.

The Cleveland area would be a good focus for the foundation work because of notable programs to involve retirees in service projects and schools, he said.

Victoria Schirm, professor of nursing at the University of Akron, said by phone from her campus that the foundation work was needed.

"Community outreach like this is very necessary," said Schirm, who cited as an example her department's work helping seniors with urinary incontinence programs get more involved.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)