Aging in America Conference: SAGE Staff Roundup
SAGE staffers at the American Society on Aging’s 2015 Aging in America Conference gave us their insights all through the week of the conference. Today marks a recap from a few staffers of their experience. See you next year at Aging in America!
I was so proud and pleased to present Helping Elders Tell Their Stories: Best Practices from StoryCorps and SAGE with my colleagues Tom Weber, Director of Community Services at SAGE and Kathi Boyle, Manager of SAGE Western Pennsylvania at Persad Center. We shared videos from our recent SAGE Story project—which encompassed five sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania—as well as two stories from a StoryCorps visit to our SAGE Center in midtown Manhattan. SAGE is a proud partner with StoryCorps OutLoud, a multi-year initiative dedicated to recording and preserving LGBTQ stories across America.
To me, sitting in a room full of people listening to two voices in an intimate audio recording talking about their lives together really disrupts the usual conference routine. Although we packed a lot of information in our 60 minutes session, we made sure to set aside enough time to share SAGE and StoryCorps stories which created this incredible feeling of warmth and intimacy which really let itself to our interactive exercise. We asked everyone to share stories one-on-one using question prompts. We weren’t sure what was going to happen and I was totally amazed to see a room full of strangers immediately and enthusiastically jump into sharing personal stories. The room just buzzed with people talking and laughing—demonstrating once again the power of storytelling.
One participant summed it up perfectly—“This is so fabulous, tell me more.”
About StoryCorps OutLoud
StoryCorps recognizes the profound historical importance of capturing the stories of the LGBTQ community and the urgent need for this work to happen now. StoryCorps OutLoud is a multi-year initiative dedicated to recording and preserving LGBTQ stories across America.
OutLoud will honor the stories of those who lived before the 1969 Stonewall uprisings, celebrate the lives of LGBTQ youth, and amplify the voices of those most often excluded from the historical record. The end result will be a diverse collection of stories that will enrich our nation’s history.
About SAGE Story
Through workshops and unique media approaches, SAGE Story brings storytelling to LGBT older people around the country, addressing discrimination and reshaping the narrative on aging in America. Piloted in New York City in early 2013, and expanded to multiple sites in Pennsylvania and North Carolina in 2014—thanks to the generous support of Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund—SAGE Story is becoming known as an important innovation for LGBT older people, equipped with the skills and platforms to craft their own powerful life stories.
One of the issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people of all ages, is discrimination and SAGE Story strengthens the storytelling skills—and draws on the unique life experiences of—LGBT elders to diversify the public narratives on aging and LGBT rights. SAGE stories highlight the discrimination our population faces—with housing, work, friends, family and society. Watch a story on our site today.
I had quite a busy week at American Society on Aging’s “Aging in America” conference that focused on policy shifts on aging and, specifically, LGBT older adults. On behalf of SAGE, I was thrilled to organize and moderate a symposium entitled, Working Towards Equitable LGBT Aging Policy in a Post-Windsor World.
This symposium was held in a packed room and we were honored to be joined by our advocacy partners – n4a, Justice in Aging, Lambda Legal, the Medicare Rights Center, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. We focused on the following misconception: many thought that when the Supreme Court ruled Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional in Windsor, the flood gates to equality would be opened and same-sex couples would finally be on a level playing field with their heterosexual counterparts. As the participants learned, nothing, could be further from the truth. We explored what that meant across the numerous federal programs, services, and supports, on which LGBT older adults rely. And as we continue to advocate towards full equality, we explored what’s left to be done and how other diverse communities, “mainstream” aging organizations, and their constituents benefit from our advocacy.
Another important workshop that I participated in was entitled: Advocating for Aging in the 114th Congress, with Tony Sarmiento of Senior Service America, and Lita Levine Kleger of Experience Works. We focused on the challenges SAGE and other organizations have faced in trying to get the Older Americans Act reauthorized ever since it was due to be reauthorized in 2011. We also talked about the challenges in getting our organizational priorities heard through the White House Conference on Aging. In particular, I focused on the importance of working in coalitions. For SAGE, that means working with other LGBT organizations, diverse elder organizations, and other aging organizations. We rely on our allies across the aging, LGBT, and diverse elder fields to advance LGBT-friendly federal aging policies. And we look forward to working with them in the next few years as we continue our work on the Older Americans Act reauthorization and other priorities.
As a participant in the ASA Leadership Institute, I had a very different experience at ASA than my SAGE colleagues. Instead of attending regular conference sessions, a cohort of nearly 60 of us spent most of the week attending specialized classes and presentations on leadership skills and management of Aging Services. The group included 15 of us sent by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation as part of the Making Maryland the Best Place to Grow Old initiative, in addition to folks from around the country who work in senior centers, AAAs, academics, and any other realm you might imagine to further the mission of successful aging.
Highlights of the week included a high-energy presentation by Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), and a Q&A with Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
One thing we heard over and over again was that the future of social services may very well rely on partnerships with Managed Care Organizations (MCOs). In business terms, the care management work we do in non-profit social service agencies saves the MCOs and insurance companies significant cost (think of the Medicare dollars spent, for instance, when an older adult gets readmitted to the hospital for something that could have been prevented if there’d been a case manager looking after them). “Selling” our services to MCOs will enable our organizations to keep doing this type of work (because we do it best!),to expand our services and to tap into sustainable income streams, all while helping to advance the “triple aim” of Better Care, Better Health and Lower Cost. This type of partnership is not without its challenges, however, and I’ll be very interested to see how it plays out across the social service sector in the coming years.
The Friday morning forum on Social and Health Disparities was another highlight for me. Our own Michael Adams and many others presented fantastic research and innovative programs that are actively working to address these disparities, many with great success. Closing speaker Jeanette Takamura called on us to envision the consequence of a future in which social and health disparities have NOT been adequately addressed, when “minorities” become the majority in the U.S. (demographically expected to occur within the next 3 decades) and substandard care becomes the norm. This call to action clearly resonated in the room, which was packed with hundreds of Aging advocates from across the country.
In between sessions and in the evenings I had plenty of chances to catch up with my SAGE co-workers and other colleagues in LGBT Aging, which was the other great benefit of the trip. Someone commented to me how tight-knit we all seem to be, and it’s true. We take our work seriously, because we care about it passionately, but we also have an awful lot of fun when we get together! I’m a strong believer that social connections enhance our work, so these opportunities to reconnect, catch up on each other’s projects and even just laugh together play an important role in strengthening our abilities to communicate, collaborate, and keep our work in alignment.
Overall it was an intense, exhilarating week in Chicago. I’m already looking forward to next year, when the conference comes to my neck of the woods in Washington, D.C.!