Transportation, safety concern seniors

Residents over age 60 air their views at an open forum


November 02, 1999|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Transportation and safety are important issues for Columbia's senior citizens, according to participants at an open forum yesterday sponsored by the Columbia Association's Senior Advisory Committee.

The committee is concluding a survey of the needs of residents over age 60 and held the meeting to give seniors who had not been surveyed the opportunity to voice their opinions. Nineteen seniors, committee members and others came to the East Columbia Senior Center to discuss the survey's topics, including job and volunteer opportunities, social and cultural activities, physical fitness, housing and medical services.

About 9,000 of the county's 25,000 residents older than 60 live in Columbia, the Howard County Office on Aging estimates.

Lucille Meredith, a resident of Columbia for 25 years, said she has seen posters advertising jobs for senior baby sitters, but "you have to have a car, [you] have to be able to drive." The Harper's Choice resident has also passed up the opportunity to go to theater events through the Florence Bain Senior Center's SEATS program because the bus drops participants at the center at the end of the night.

"If you don't have a car to get home, what should you do?" she asked.

The fact that buses do not run on Sunday was also an issue for Meredith and other senior citizens she knows who want to go shopping, to church or to other activities.

Dick Kirchner, chairman of the Columbia Association's Senior Advisory Committee, said the association's free transportation services for seniors have improved and are beginning to focus on late-night events such as the SEATS program or outdoor recreation events. He suggested taxi service in Columbia could be improved.

Maggie Brown, Columbia Association vice president and director of community services, suggested several local musical venues and art galleries that are easier to visit than ones in Baltimore or Washington.

Elizabeth Rappaport of Long Reach sees safety as a barrier to enjoying evening activities because she does not want to use walking trails in the dark or traverse an empty parking lot at the end of the evening.

"Anything I have to do, I do in the day. I really resent that," said Rappaport, who believes many senior citizens restrict their night life because of safety issues.

Employment was the first topic suggested by moderator Henry Beale, the economist who is conducting the survey. A couple of participants discussed difficulty in finding work that fits their skills.

After an unsatisfying volunteer experience, Natalie Yopconka, a 13-year resident of Columbia who lives in Dorsey's Search, would like to put nearly 40 years of computer experience to use in "a job that pays me money."

Skip McAfee, a resident of Long Reach for 24 years, said temporary staffing companies offer low-level jobs that do not fit his background in association management.

The subject of physical fitness drew mixed responses. Some expressed concern about the cost of using fitness centers and taking classes, and others talked about affordable classes they were taking and suggested using the walking trails maintained by the Columbia Association for exercise.

Other county surveys of senior citizens' needs have been done, but until now none had focused on residents of Columbia, Kirchner said. He said the Columbia Association wants to design programs to better meet the needs of this fast-growing population.

l In February, the Columbia Council allotted $10,000 for a survey. Beale, who works for Microeconomic Applications, a consulting firm, has surveyed nearly 200 Columbians older than 60.

A report is expected at the end of this month.

Beale will run a second town hall-style meeting Saturday for senior citizens who have not taken part in a survey. The meeting will run from 10 a.m. to 12: 30 p.m. at Florence Bain Senior Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way.

"Just the fact that the meeting took place is wonderful," said Yopconka. "I just hope something constructive and helpful comes out of it."

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