Connecting elders, strengthening communities
Second annual Anchorage Elders Summit
In May, approximately 85 elders and seniors, providers and community members came together at the Millennium Alaskan Hotel to discuss the theme of the Second Annual Anchorage Elders Summit, “Connecting Elders, Strengthening the Community.”
The format of the summit as envisioned by the sponsors, Alaska Rural Behavioral Health Training Academy (ARBHTA), and the Trust Training Cooperative, in partnership with the Anchorage Senior Citizens Advisory Commission, is to provide a place for our elders to be listened to, learned from and honored for the wisdom and life learning they possess. The forum is designed to be a reflective experience, a dialogue that expands on subjects and ideas that touch the lives of elders and seniors in our community.
This year, the summit was honored to have three speakers, each sharing their stories, experiences and insights into what it means to be an elder and how these experiences have shaped and continue to shape their ongoing contributions and engagement in our community. The summit was expertly facilitated by Larry Roberts from Fairbanks along with host, Dawnia Clements, Vice-chair of the Senior Citizens Advisory Commission.
Each speaker shared their unique story and brought to the group a rich tapestry of experiences that sparked conversation and reflection as those present broke off into small groups.
Judith Lethin, the first speaker, shared her experiences as a person of faith who has traveled extensively in rural Alaska, and how the impact of the relationships she formed has continued to define her work as a chaplain and pastor.
Steve Lesko, Executive Director of Hope Community Resources, captured the attention of the audience with his ideas on aging and contributing to the community. Steve has been instrumental in establishing services for people with disabilities across Alaska and his story about the elder in Barrow who wanted to stay home, and the response of his agency in making this happen, brought tears to the eyes of many.
Walter Porter, a Tlingit elder from Yakutat, shared stories passed down from his elders, keeping the audience spellbound by the richness of his storytelling and life experiences.
In addition to the three guest speakers, Dawnia Clements interviewed a former Foster Grandparent, Zandra Kinnie, and those present learned from her the importance of volunteering and the impact on the next generation.
The second day, a panel of people from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, entertained and enlightened the audience with their perspectives of elderhood based on their backgrounds and experiences.
The summit was not all about listening, but conversing with each other. Breakout sessions were lively yet thoughtful, with participants engaged in sharing with each other about the strengths of elders and the ways in which elders contribute to our community.
At the end, the group discussed what they would like to see evolve from the summit. Ideas included strengthening the community connections for elders with increased opportunities for volunteering, using elders as mentors, and bringing together youth and elders to continue the dialogue of “Connecting Elders—Strengthening the Community”.
The planning committee is already looking forward to next year and building upon the success of this summit. For more information please call Marilyn Weaver, Office Manager at Tanana Chiefs Conference, (907) 456-4214.
Lynda Meyer is the Municipality of Anchorage Senior Services Coordinator.