By Angel Bourgoin, Consultant, JSI
This year’s Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging (MCOA) fall conference was a great success. Bringing together Councils on Aging, municipal agencies, researchers, and other partners in Falmouth, Mass. on October 8-10, the conference was a vibrant discussion on the important issues and opportunities in improving the lives of older adults. Joanne Moore, president of the MCOA Board of Directors, praised the conference’s presenters and staff, saying “Our 600+ engaged learners went back to their Senior Centers renewed, excited, and bubbling with ideas!”
A major topic throughout the conference was redefining what it means to age. “One of the things that folks talked about was that somehow we need to make aging sexy. And I really think Liz Walker did make aging sexy,” said Ruth Palombo, senior health policy officer at the Tufts Health Plan Foundation. In her keynote, Reverend Liz Walker talked about how aging gave her a new power to pursue the things in life that really matter in her personal transformational journey. “We can all run into experiences that are transformative, if only we are awake to them,” said Rev. Walker. Rev. Walker spoke about the important role that charitable giving, good will and outreach play in inspiring people and moving us forward. As she said, “I still think the best is yet to come.” In addition, many of the workshops focused on understanding how to better empower older adults, such as through improving physical and mental health, teaching self and community advocacy, and efforts like the Aging Mastery Program.
Along with the talk of how to redefine aging, there was talk of how to redefine senior centers. In the session of Secretaries from around New England, speakers discussed how aging is changing the face of the world, that there are opportunities to harness the talents and energies of older adults, and how senior centers could be a valuable part of this process. Building on this year’s theme of, “Senior Centers 2014: Where Do We Grow from Here?,” session participants talked about how senior centers need to be open, accessible, bright and cheerful with flexible, nimble programming and staff who love to work with older people. Older adults would direct the development of programs, and adopt both local businesses and legislators to teach them about programs and services, and challenge them to become advocates at both the state and local level.
Palombo explained how the comments from the Secretaries resonated with her. “I too want my senior center to be a place where I can go to seven days a week, where I can learn more and participate, gain from, and give back. A place where I can assist others to learn about older adults and also mentor the young,” said Palombo. “My senior center is already a hub in my community and I want to build on that, attract more people, and expand programs. We need new partners to expand our reach in the community and be visible leaders for community collaboration for healthy living for all.”
What did you think of the MCOA 2014 conference? What was your favorite plenary session or workshop? What did you learn, and what will you do with that new information? Share your experiences in the comments below!