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Aging Action Initiative A Worthwhile Journey with AAI  By Joe O’Hehir, AAI Steering Committee Member and Vivalon CEO

During these last couple of months serving as a member of the AAI Steering Committee (I’m retiring at the end of February), I have been taking some time to reflect back on this worthwhile journey that has led us to where we are today.

The seeds of the AAI movement can be traced back eight years ago to December, 2012. I was attending a Marin County Board of Supervisors meeting and while leaving I ran into Dr. Larry Meredith who was then Director of Marin County’s Health & Human Services Division. We walked together down that long hallway leaving the Supervisors’ chambers where as many of you know quite a few “side bar” conversations take place. Larry had received some questions from a few of the supervisors inquiring about what efforts were being considered to help Marin’s vulnerable older adult population. Larry and I continued our dialogue in January 2013 and came to the conclusion that we had studied, assessed, and identified what Marin’s older adults needed. We did not need another strategic plan. We needed an Action Plan for Marin’s rapidly growing older adult population. We did not need to talk to older adults about what they and their families and caregivers needed. We already had that information. We needed to implement solutions.

Fortunately, in July 2013, Lee Pullen returned to Marin from his “sabbatical” to Santa Clara County. Lee became the Director of Aging and Adult services for Marin County. I met with Lee in August of 2013 and we discussed the need for an Aging Action Initiative. Lee was coming back fresh from a similar initiative that he had led in Santa Clara County. We pulled together a task force of individuals representing the County, Marin Community Foundation , the Commission on Aging, the Marin Interfaith Council, and representatives from community-based organizations who were providing programs and services for Marin’s elderly population. In addition to Lee and me, the task force included Carol Hovis, Nancy Masters, Jim Munson, Dana Pepp, Skip Schwartz, Sharon Turner, Shirin Vakharia, and Jim Ward. This group would become the first AAI Steering committee in 2015. Shelley Hamilton was instrumental in helping to set up AAI as a special project with administrative services and strategic planning work. We were fortunate to have the County of Marin fund the ongoing work performed by AAI from the beginning to the present, as well as project funding support from MCF.

During the past three years, AAI has gone through a positive and progressive leadership transition that has helped to carry out the original mission and vision of ensuring that every community issue and opportunity gets viewed through the lens of the needs for our older adult population. The very capable and competent AAI staff includes Linda Jackson, Sami Mericle, and Ellen Baxter. The AAI steering committee now includes new members who are the future leaders in our community, such as the committee co-chairs Teri Dowling and Michelle Javid.

2020 has been a truly challenging year for all, especially our older adult population. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced almost everyone in some way to feel the effects of social isolation and loneliness due to the need for us to shelter-in-place and to stay at home, a feeling and condition that thousands of Marin’s older adults face every day even without a pandemic.

Dozens of racial injustice acts across the country have focused a spot light on what communities are doing to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), especially in Marin where the county ranks number one among all 58 California counties for racial disparity. It is AAI’s responsibility to ensure that Marin County’s DEI efforts also include a look at policies that will help address ageism. The World Health Organization defines ageism as the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. Ageism can take many forms, including prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices, or institutional policies that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs. AAI must step up and be the voice for older adults who are experiencing ageism in Marin.

The AAI journey has certainly been a worthwhile one thanks to the individuals mentioned above and to the hundreds of organizations who have joined this dynamic collaborative initiative. Most importantly, AAI has become a strong voice for Marin County’s elderly population.  I am honored and grateful to have been a part of this important endeavor.