Statement Of Susan Lutz
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
May 7, 2003
National Family Friends Resource Center
National Council on the Aging, Inc.
National Family Friends Resource Center
National Council on the Aging, Inc.
The National Family Friends Resource Center at the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) would like to commend the EPA for launching its Aging Initiative to study the effects of environmental health hazards on older persons and examine the impact that a rapidly aging population will have on the environment. In particular, the Family Friends Program would like to comment on the additional EPA initiative to identify model programs that will provide opportunities for older persons to volunteer in their communities to reduce environmental hazards and protect the environment for future generations.
Family Friends is an intergenerational program that pairs older volunteers with families at risk. Family Friends volunteers are making vital contributions to thousands of children across the United States who are severely disabled, chronically ill, homeless, HIV positive, in foster care or who have been recently adopted from abroad. These volunteers are friends, helpers, and surrogate grandparents for children who face challenges that most us can hardly comprehend. These caring and dedicated older persons also provide invaluable support, guidance, and respite to parents who are struggling to care for their children. By reaching out and helping these children and families, the volunteers have also discovered how to enrich their own lives and ensure that they will thrive in their late years.
Last year, a group of Family Friends project staff and volunteers in southeast Pennsylvania met to discuss the added vulnerabilities that the children in their projects faced in terms of environmental health hazards. Compromised immune systems, deteriorating housing conditions, lack of access to preventive health care, and lack of educational materials designed for use by students with disabilities made the families within Family Friends more susceptible to the risks posed by lead poisoning, radon, second-hand smoke, carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals. Family Friends was challenged to find a way to bring readily available information on minimizing these health risks to children with autism, severe behavioral problems, mental/physical disabilities, and other challenges. These children have often been left out of environmental education efforts in their schools and communities. Family Friends not only wanted the children to learn about environmental health risks, they wanted the children to encourage their families, schools and communities to make positive changes to improve their environments. They also wanted the children to become advocates and educate others on environmental health risks.
It seemed natural for NCOA that older volunteers could be the catalysts to assist these children in their efforts to learn about the environment and work with them to find creative ways of educating others about what they have learned. With funding from the U. S. Administration on Aging and guidance and technical assistance from EPA national and local offices, three Family Friends projects-Bucks County Intermediate Unit in Doylestown, PA; Temple University's Center for Intergenerational Learning, Philadelphia, PA; and Elwyn, Inc., Elwyn PA-are each currently working with older volunteers and children at risk to develop interactive environmental health education projects. The projects are based on an earlier EPA-funded project with the National Nursing Center Consortium. The goals of each Family Friends project are to: 1.) increase participants knowledge and understanding of key environmental health issues; 2.) engage participants in a meaningful project outside of class time in which they develop creative ways of educating others about the importance of these issues; and 3.) demonstrate that children with special needs can play a key role in improving the environment.
At Elwyn Inc., the participants--students from an alternative school-have received educational information about specific environmental health issues with their older volunteer partners at an assisted living facility. The pairs have participated in hands-on learning activities and the students have conducted further research online back at their schools. The students working with the older volunteers are synthesizing what they have learned into a deliverable product (a videotape and CD) that will be available for distribution to other students, teachers and intergenerational program leaders. The students will develop a dramatic interpretation of the content material in the form of a skit that will be performed live and then be available on videotape as well as an interactive CD and workbook.
At an elementary school in Bucks County, older volunteers are working with students with autism. Prior to their classroom work, the Family Friends volunteers actively learned about environmental health hazards in order to adapt existing educational materials into information and activities that children with autism can use and benefit from. The students and volunteers have enjoyed thinking about and doing hands on activities about how they can help prevent water pollution, what triggers asthma attacks, and how to convince their friends not to smoke. The students will present what they have learned to other students at their school and will also display art work related to the environment.
At Temple University's Center for Intergenerational Learning, students with special needs and older volunteers have been meeting after school to learn about the health risks associated with second hand smoke, asthma activating agents, and lead poisoning. The children and older volunteers are working with a local theatre troupe in an interactive process that will lead them to develop an artistic expression designed to educate others about these environmental health issues. After completing ten sessions, the children and adults have decided to make life-size puppets out of recycled materials and will use the puppets to share their knowledge of environmental health hazards with other after-school classes, school assemblies, and groups of older adults.
NCOA, the three local Family Friends projects, and the National Nursing Center Consortium will present the results of these interactive environmental education projects at the EPA Community Involvement Conference in July 2003. Workbooks, CDs, and videotapes will be available to encourage replication of the projects in other communities.
NCOA's vision is a society in which all of us, as we age, are thriving and making vital and valued contributions to our families, our communities and future generations. Family Friends and the work they do is a wonderful example of how to achieve this vision.
Through its Aging Initiative, NCOA encourages the EPA to develop intergenerational solutions to addressing environmental health issues and to support the development and dissemination of model intergenerational programs that bring younger and older generations together to learn about, act on, and advocate for a healthier environment.
For more information on Family Friends, contact: NCOA, Family Friends Resource Center 300 D Street, SW, Suite, 801, Washington, DC 20024; (202) 479-6672 or email@example.com.
For information on the local projects, contact: Sandy Rotenberg, Bucks County IU, 705 Shady Grove Road, Doylestown, PA 18901; (800) 770-4822 ext.1729; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Durbano, Elwyn, Inc., 111 Elwyn Road, Elwyn, PA 19063; (610) 891-2042; email@example.com. Adam Brunner, Temple University 's Center for Intergenerational Learning, 1601 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122; (215) 204-3196; firstname.lastname@example.org.