Outstanding people performing outstanding work

Congratulations to Rita Hatch, who was announced in May as the winner of this year’s Ron Hammett Award for outstanding service to seniors in the Anchorage community. Rita was presented the award at the Older Americans Month kick-off event May 2 at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center.

Ron Hammett was a well-known advocate in Anchorage, having served on the Senior Citizens Advisory Commission, was board chair for the Anchorage Senior Center, and volunteered for AARP. It is fitting Rita be honored with the award, since Ron supervised her and trained her to take over the AARP Information Center, which operated in the Northway Mall from 1997 to 2003.

Ron passed away in 2004 and the Anchorage Senior Citizens Advisory Commission created the award in his honor.

Rita joined Older Persons Action Group as a Vista volunteer in June 2002 and established a program assisting people with Medicare, Social Security and other benefits. She continues to do this, 11 years later, as a volunteer. She has assisted hundreds of people navigate paperwork, find answers to confusing questions or the right service for their needs.

She networks with a myriad of organizations, providing them information and feedback that helps them accomplish their service missions. Her monthly column for Senior Voice newspaper, which she has written for years, is a combination of vital resource information and questions and critiques of programs and policies, with her end goal always being the welfare of older residents.

Rita reaches out to the community to disseminate (and gather) information, attending hearings and events and also conducting presentations. Rita also has for the past year been the coordinator of OPAG’s monthly senior service provider networking event, known as the “Interagency Breakfast.” She reaches out to businesses and organizations to host the events and maintains an e-mail Listserv for monthly invitations. These events are well-attended and very useful in familiarizing service professionals with new programs and developments in the community.

Rita’s tough. At 84 years old, dealing with hospitalizations and chronic medical challenges, she still steps up when she feels she can help. Last year, she put in long hours – sometimes 30 a week – for several months in OPAG’s office when the organization was dealing with staff and funding shortages. She did this as a volunteer. She went on to offer her services as a board member, and currently performs the duties of the board secretary in addition to her other work.

Rita is a relentless advocate – when she gets a complaint or hears about a change to a program or policy that will adversely impact seniors, she looks into it and lets people know her thoughts. Her letters to the Anchorage Daily News are frequently published, and she speaks up in public settings.

I remember Rita grilling former AARP state advocacy director Pat Luby at a public hearing on the then-proposed Medicare Part D provisions. Later, Pat confided admiringly to me that beneath her tough exterior, Rita is tremendously kind and caring. I couldn’t agree more. Her hard work, determination, and concern for seniors are a precious asset to this community.

Welcome Pam Yeargan, new OPAG board member

Eagle River resident Pam Yeargan has joined the OPAG board of directors. The board voted her in at its May meeting. Pam is a retired educator, having taught in Fairbanks, King Cove and Eagle River. She has been very active in the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce and the annual Bear Paw Festival. For the past 10 years she has directed the Teddy Bear Picnic, which caters to over 1,200 children and families.

Pam and her husband, Jim, raised seven children and have 24 grandchildren. Pam says she loves to read, “garden when there is snow, and quilt with my friends in our crafters group in my free time. I find being there for others is one way we can all support our families, our community and our seniors.”

Welcome, Pam. We’re glad to have you on the team.

Senior Voice’s Web site is live

After a year in the works, this Senior Voice Web site is online for viewing. Thank you to Dan Wilcox at our Web service contractor, Lions Light Corp., for his patience and expertise.