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Symposium On Aging Sets Stage for Senior Advocacy

Keynote speaker Rona Barrett shares her own story

Selma Rubin serves on nine nonprofit boards and her tax return lists her profession as a community activist. Rubin is 95 years old plus change.

Every day, Rubin wakes up and tells herself she is going to have an adventure. Monday, Oct. 25 was no different, as Rubin set the stage for the 2010 Symposium on Aging. The symposium took a look at the state of seniors in Santa Barbara County and called for action in advocacy.

Have a good doctor, dentist, lawyer, and mechanic, Rubin said, and make sure they all listen to you. Rubin’s tips for aging include be happy, secure, listen, have friends and be one, be cultural, exercise, love, laugh, listen to young people, dress with color, experience love, eat well, smile, advocate and talk among others.

“When sadness comes into your life, take time as a partner,” she said.

Her answer when people ask how she is? “99.99 percent perfect,” she said.

Co-chairwomen Doreen Farr and Naomi Schwartz each spoke on the importance of improving quality of life for South Coast seniors. Farr, Santa Barbara County’s 3rd District supervisor, whose mother will soon turn 84, said “as her daughter it is a great blessing to know she is eating nutritious meals and having fun with her friends” at an adult day program.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, addressed the crowd, as did 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

Schwartz, a former Santa Barbara County supervisor, praised three sectors for coming together to produce the symposium: government, including the county Public Health Department, nonprofit providers of senior care, and the philanthropic community.

“It’s one (area) that isn’t always thought of by philanthropists and one that’s not always understood,” Schwartz said.

The statistics are easy to understand. The 2010 Senior Trends Survey shows a demand for senior services that is not being met. According to the survey, 73 percent of participating senior agencies have experienced an increased demand for services while only 22 percent have received an increase in funding since 2008. Most agencies receive their funding from client fees or donations, foundations, and private donations. Roughly 43 percent receive government funding.

A survey administered by the county Social Services Department shows that 18.1 percent of county residents are seniors over the age of 60. People reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of another 18.6 years. The study also shows that the number of seniors will double over the next 30 years as baby boomers become seniors.

Keynote speaker and entertainment media pioneer Rona Barrett understands the needs of seniors. The Santa Ynez resident cared for her father for 10 years after her mother died. She had no way of knowing that her father, Harry, would contract Alzheimer’s disease.

“I had no idea what it would be like to come home to see him staring into space,” she said. “Slowly but surely every day I came home I would see a change in my dad.”

One day Barrett returned home and her father did not recognize her.

“It was a moment that I have never forgotten,” she said. “My father went to a different place. I found myself becoming my father’s parent.”

While Barrett wondered and worried, her father’s disease gradually became worse. As the disease progressed, Barrett’s father loved going to an adult day care program. Every day he would get dressed up for what he believed was school. Barrett said when her father passed away, she felt like an orphan.

“I said ‘that’s it’, I’m going to speak for people with no voice,” she said.

In 2000, Barrett founded the Rona Barrett Foundation with the idea of speaking for and supporting seniors.

“I wanted to have them know what the golden years are all about,” Barrett said. “We all have to become responsible for this generation.”

Noozhawk special projects editor Kimberly Quinn can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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