Statement Of Natalie Ambrose
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
Los Angeles, California
April 29, 2003
I want to talk about encouraging older adults to volunteer. I live in a rural section of LA county, and it makes me recognize what a varied populace we are. I would like you to think with me. At this point we are tapping the information of elders in an essential environment program. Who are the elders? We are the population that has gone through many stages. We are the ones who were born before 1940, who witnessed life after a nuclear explosion that changed the physical and moral world. The next group of people – if you were born after the 40’s, you grew up listening the radio, and you had the wonderful time of thinking images and that is how you got to know the world. Just think of the people born after the 50s. You were brought up with TV. You got to watch images of people in all sorts of shapes and see battles and war. Many of you were born after the 50s or mid 50's, you came to recognize that there were a new spirit moving and people demonstrating, and it was a culture of substance that had never before seen the mainstream. The one thing that is common to all of us – and think about the child being brought up today -- you begin to recognize that you can talk to anybody any place, see almost anything, and you can talk to a machine that is going to be pictures because you can press buttons. So is the machine more real or are your companions more real? This is the story of the people who are now living. And the seniors are part of that group and should not be in exclusion. One thing that is common we are all readers. To empower the wisdom of the elder, it seems to me is the challenge of our culture. What can be effective by what has been done? Research needs to made clear with practical information and taken out to the seniors. Businesses need to clean up their act. The advertising and special interests tell us what our health should be. Have you ever watched one night of TV ads and ask yourselves what does the senior looking at those ads think about the health issue? What is the challenge for the EPA for our culture, for our seniors?
Individuals need to be inspired to take part in neighborhood communities. What is the way we are organizing ourselves? I taught math for 25 years and for the last 20 years, I have done community organizing. This is the hardest time to organize. I don’t know why. But I do know that there is a thought about the vocal community’s need to be organized. I live in a little ‘burb with a 1000 people in the mountains. We have more community than a lot of other people. I also have contact here in the heart of Los Angeles with a couple of apartment houses, and they can be motivated to work together. I also know a very famous street named Black Street where a group of them has helped them to organize. We need to work at organizing some local group of people to expand the recognition of what the needs are. Seniors like to be active, they like to have a specific project - they like to see results, and they like to have personal influence. I strongly recommend you look at the work of "Building Communities from Inside Out" which is the work of McKnight and Kretzmann at Northwestern University. They have been around for about 15 years and communities have had good results. I would also suggest that when you start to give out grants to empower small communities that you think about giving grants to small groups of people willing to work together for 18 months or two years, and $3,000 -4,000 goes a long way with an apartment house group or a block. To empower people to feel responsible for changing some environment – that could be done. Link elders with younger people. We have to go back to the idea that the story of "the lived reality" is important. I think the curse of this decade is going to be that we teach history through the sanitized TV documentary. If you lived through the history, and you see it on TV, you will see it was not that way.
Among those who have been community organizers and planners, you bring those together and ask what is going to work now. I recommend also the thoughts of a group in the Denver area - The Aging to Saging" notion. Building on the saging of the elderly and telling the story. It seems to me that if I want to improve the environment, I have to give the seniors the power and the will, and don’t miss the opportunity.