Seniors in search of representation

By Ruth Longoria

You don't have to be a senior to focus on issues concerning the Island's elderly. Whether you're part of the ``baby boomer'' generation and have parents who are getting older, or you're planning ahead for yourself in a few years, your thoughts may already be turning to the inevitable increasing needs of seniors and the need for advocates to identify and address the problems facing our older residents.

If that's the case, you might want to consider becoming part of what some Island planners hope will be the Mercer Island Senior Council.

In what might seem to be a case of putting the cart before the horse -- there has to be a board of nine volunteer council members, with at least half of its members seniors in order to form the council, identify through a survey of Islanders if there's a need for a council, and have the council commissioned by the mayor, said organizer Leslie Scott, secretary and a founding member of the Mercer Island Senior Foundation.

Although Mayor Alan Merkle has heard a rustle of movement in the senior community within the past six months, the step-by-step manner in which 66-year-old Scott and her comrades are organizing the council means the mayor may be one of the last to know when the all volunteer organization is good to go. ``We can't talk to the mayor until we have enough people to serve,'' Scott said.

However, Merkle said he's ready to listen, as soon as the Senior Council is ready to approach him.

``I discussed the possibility of something like this at the City Council retreat ... and if there was an appropriate group that was going to do some good, I have said I'd talk to the council and appoint a liaison,'' he said.

Scott said that six volunteers have already stepped forward, but another three are needed. The Mercer Island Senior Council would be fashioned after the City of Kirkland's highly successful senior council.

The 21-member Kirkland group has been meeting monthly since 2002 and was formed to revitalize senior services in that city after a needs assessment recommendation in March 2000. The council has worked to plan for the health, well-being and independence of Kirkland's seniors, said Dana Larue, senior center supervisor.

As well as raising community awareness of senior needs, the Kirkland council represents seniors on various city and community committees and neighborhood associations and provides community events, such as a yearly healthy living expo, which offers speakers, free health screenings, health, natural medicine, financial planning and other related resource booths, cooking and fitness demonstrations and an opportunity for social interaction.

Members of the Kirkland group have met with Scott and her comrades to explain the workings of the council and help the Island group establish by-laws and a 2005 workplan. The Island group also met with Pete Mayer, director of Mercer Island Parks & Recreation. However, there has been no offer to use space at the new community center for senior council meetings, something that seems to bother Scott.

Another option for a meeting place for the senior council may be available as properties began to develop within the new Town Center.

Scott has spoken with Eric Rovner, a representative of ERA Care Communities, which is building Aljoya House, a 130-unit senior residence set to break ground by the end of 2005 in the 2400 block of 76th Avenue S.E. The facility should be open for occupancy in March 2007. In addition to apartments and space for resident's activities, Aljoya House will have facilities that can be used by the public. Though there is a charge for some of those uses dependent on size of the group, expenses involved, and frequency of use, Rovner said ERA Care Communities want to be supportive of the senior council, if possible.

``We at Aljoya House at Mercer Island will make our best effort to accommodate the Senior Council,'' Rovner said. ``We really want to do everything we can for the community and working with the Senior Council is one avenue to demonstrate our willingness to do that.''

For more information on the Senior Council, or to volunteer as a member, call Leslie Scott at 232-4597.

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