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Saint Mary’s hosts justice seminar

Nicole Zook | Thursday, September 23, 2004

As part of an effort to explore the impact of aging at individual, family and community levels from a social justice perspective, Saint Mary’s will host a conference today and Friday on aging and related concerns entitled “Justice For All Ages In the Era of Extended Longevity.”

Over 300 students, faculty, staff and community members are registered to take part in the conference. It will consist of both group events and individual workshops focusing on such topics as improving quality of care for the elderly, initiatives to help their caregivers, developing age-inclusive communities and political advocacy as a necessary tool to address the issues of aging.

As Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame students graduate, they face the pressures of starting careers and families of their own. What many do not realize is they may end up as caretakers for not only their own young children, but also for elderly relatives with no other place to turn.

“We are concerned about the growing number of what we call the sandwich generation,” Sister Marianne Farina said. According to Farina, more and more young people are finding that as average life expectancy increases, so to does their level of responsibility to older family members.

Farina, the director of Research and Scholarship for the Center for Women’s InterCultural Leadership, is one half of a team of organizers determined to find a solution to this problem. She and JoAnn Burke, the Elderhood Institute coordinator, have designed a conference to address the issues of aging to members of the Saint Mary’s community.

“I think students think that we’re talking about issues that affect only the older generation,” Burke said. “But many of you will live to be 100 years old. We’re rolling up our sleeves and getting into dialogue – how can we live? We need the voices of the younger generation in that dialogue.”

Both Burke and Farina said they believe it takes a village to raise a grandparent.

“The way we are conducting the conference is the way we would like to behave,” Farina said. “We are networking with all the various groups in the campus and in the community.”

Networking is an important concept to the conference and to the issue of aging itself, Farina said. The organizers have incorporated a variety of groups such as the Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center, CWIL, the Center for Spirituality, the Sisters of the Holy Cross and five departments of study at Saint Mary’s, among others.

“It’s about looking at the social services in our area, both in South Bend and in our state of Indiana, and also in our nation that support and help our senior citizens and their families,” Farina said.

In keeping with that spirit, the keynote speaker of the conference will be the Honorable Ann Richards, who served as Texas governor from 1991 to 1995. As a board member of the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government Center for Public Leadership, Richards has been prominent in the effort to improve healthcare and insurance. She is also a strong advocate of Medicare reform and volunteers for civil rights and economic justice causes.

Farina said she feels Richards is an excellent candidate to speak on the topic of extended longevity from a social perspective.

“She has really been speaking out about this issue, and she has really put it on the page for everyone to look at,” Farina said. “She is a voice that has really been advocating the need to look at these issues.”