Statement Of Marilyn Kraitchman
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
April 23, 2003
Vintage Senior Center & Project Director
EASI (Allegheny/Butler County)
Vintage Senior Center & Project Director
EASI (Allegheny/Butler County)
Volunteerism and the Environment
Sampling of seven streams on fourteen sites, collection and recording of data and publication of this data 4, 024 senior volunteer hours. Collection and identification of mussels on streams in the Connoquenessing Watershed 477 senior hours. One hundred seventeen volunteers monitoring streams monthly, many of which had not been monitored for over twenty- five years. PRICELESS.
Since 1997 volunteers in Allegheny, Butler and Westmoreland Counties have monitored 31 streams on 65 sites. Let's take a look at the work the volunteer does.
A quality controlled program, volunteers test monthly for two years on the same streams and same sites for Dissolved Oxygen, Nitrates, Sulfates, pH, Alkalinity, Conductivity, Temperature and Phosphates. In addition to the chemical tests, physical data is recorded for each site and twice a year a macro invertebrate study is completed. All of this information is placed in a database for the local DEP, private industry and the general public. For the community and specifically for the DEP it provides a baseline of data on streams that they simply do not have the manpower to monitor on a regular basis. The work would not get done without the volunteers and valuable information would never be uncovered. Our local DEP has been very supportive of our work and is currently putting this data on their web site. Additionally they have encouraged us to expand to new horizons such as testing for AMD (Abandoned Mine Drainage).
All of this effort is part of EASI (Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement), a national, non-profit organization which act as a catalyst for seniors to provide leadership and expertise in solving local environmental problems. In 1997 Tom Benjamin, President of EASI, signed a landmark agreement with the then Secretaries of Environmental Protection and Aging in Pennsylvania. Vintage was invited along with 9 other groups to pilot this program in our state. Currently EASI is in 50 states and 10 countries. In Pennsylvania the volunteers focus on surface stream water monitoring
We have grown from nine volunteers in 1997, to over 117 with an additional twenty waiting to be trained. The dedication of the volunteers is unparalleled. Of the original nine volunteers, five remain with the organization today. It is not uncommon for a volunteer to make a change in his or her personal calendar to accommodate this project. Tim Collins, Director of the Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, said it perfectly when he wrote about the Vintage Senior Environmental Corps, "The EASI team is professional, skilled beyond imagination, energetic and passionate. The work that they are doing is inspiring for all involved. I've spent a lot of time in Frick Park and along Nine Mile Run with all sorts of experts. But, a project doesn't have an interface until you have the EASI gray - team up to their knees in stream wetlands and underbrush. Everyone stops, wants to know what is going on, and next thing you know half the park is clued into the nature of these streams and the pollutants that threaten them. I am convinced that we can either turn the city over to the kids or to the seniors at EASI. At either end of the spectrum you find open-minded people with time, energy and skills that are just dying to make a change in our community".
Older adults make important social contributions through voluntary commitments. They represent a large reservoir of knowledge, skills, cultural continuity, wisdom and civic responsibility. According to Senior Centers Opportunities for Successful Aging, the volunteer effort of older people amounts to the equivalent of more then 1 million full time employees. Upward of 50% of retired seniors give more then 4 hours of their time each week to volunteer. Even among seniors who work full or part-time, 54% report volunteering. When other factors such as uncompensated childcare are added in, it is clear that the voluntary activities of older persons is significant to our economic and social well being. Volunteer action in the United States is a tradition. Every culture has developed ways in which people help people, and organizations have a never-ending need for the time and talents of volunteers. With many people retiring earlier and baby boomers in there fifties forming a large part of the maturing population, older people represent a growing force of potential volunteers. The current administration would be wise to view this population as an asset, not a liability. It is short sighted to even consider devaluing the life of an older adult. If anything it should be increased because of their contributions to the community.
The National Center for Charitable Statistics develops the natural average hourly value of volunteer time, which is derived from the annual report of economic indicators. The 1999 U.S. average value of volunteer time was $14.83. The current value is close to $18.00 and hour. This represents a range of tasks that might be valued at minimum wage as well as services from doctors, lawyers and other professionals that are valued at a high rate.
In placing a high value on the efforts that volunteers give to an organization, it is a win, win, situation for both the agency receiving the help, and the volunteer giving the help. Volunteers experience personal fulfillment and satisfaction. Through volunteerism, older persons can put a lifetime of skills and experience to good use. Benefits of volunteering include:
- increased self-esteem and confidence
- feeling needed
- improved interpersonal skills
- the opportunity to share knowledge and expertise with others
- learning new skills
- renewed vigor and enthusiasm for life
- exercising leadership and problem solving skills
- enhanced personal development
- a better awareness of water quality is clearly a benefit for those volunteers in the water monitoring project
We are sure you knew that when you made plans to the come to Pittsburgh with the "listening sessions'' that you were coming to the heartland of aging. Allegheny County is proud to have one of the largest population of older adults in the country. We value our senior citizens. We care about the air they breath and the water they drink.
The mission of Vintage, the premiere senior center that hosts the EASI program, is to positively influence the experience of aging in our community. To that end we provide a wide array of services including the Senior Center which provides life long learning opportunities, soc/rec, nutrition and wellness programs and of course volunteer opportunities. Secondly, the Vintage Informational and Referral Office acts as a community resource for seniors and their families. Finally the Vintage Adult Day Services provide services for the physically and mentally impaired older adults in a safe and supportive environment.
It is our wish that when you leave Pittsburgh, you will take with you a better picture of our community. There is a great musical entitled: 70 Girls 70, and one of the songs is Old Folks. We would like to leave you with a great message from this song:
"Go take a look at the old folks, they quite a sight,
But if you want to see old folks, you're in the wrong place tonight.
Go call an usher, you bought the wrong pew
We're very sorry, you've got the wrong group.
Go get a refund, you're in the wrong hall tonight".