May 19, 2017

Joaquin Pastor, Erin Grahek, Glen Ulmer and Darlene Eckert address the Multnomah County board.

In the seven years since he retired, Glen Ulmer has become a pretty regular theatergoer.

“I pick her up. I take her to the performance of her choice. I buy my ticket. I sit with her and at the end of the evening, I take her home.”

The her in Ulmer’s story is a theater lover he spends time with as a volunteer with SAGE Metro Portland’s Friendly Visitors program. The program offers activities and services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older adults who are isolated or in need of assistance.

“Sometimes, it’s just visiting the senior and going for a walk,” Ulmer said. “Sometimes it’s a weekly visit just so they have someone to talk to. It could be helping them run an errand.”

In Ulmer’s case, it’s going to the theater.

“She gets a lot of satisfaction out of this,” Ulmer said of the woman whose disability makes it hard for her to get around. “She used to be a performer when she was a younger woman. And this is something that would be very difficult for her to do on her own.”

Ulmer told his story to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, which on Thursday adopted a proclamation recognizing May as Older Americans Month in the county. This year’s theme is “Age Out Loud.”

“Older Americans Month is a perfect opportunity to recognize and celebrate what getting older looks like today,” said Erin Grahek, community services manager for the Aging, Disability and Veterans Services Division of the Department of County Human Services. “More than ever before, older people are working longer, trying new things and engaging in their communities. They are taking charge, striving for wellness, focusing on independence and advocating for themselves and others.”

Congress passed the Older Americans Act in 1965, marking the first national effort to establish a broad array of services for older adults. As part of that initiative, ADVSD provides a comprehensive, coordinated service delivery system for older adults, people with disabilities, and veterans with a special emphasis on people with low-income, limited English-speakers, ethnic minorities and frail persons.

“We know that a person’s ability to achieve wellness, to maintain dignity and choice and to have the wherewithal and the freedom to advocate is influenced by the broader society and its institutions, programs and policies,” Grahek said. “Aging, Disability and Veterans Services is proud to be an institution that promotes independence, dignity and choice in the lives of older adults, people with disabilities and veterans.”

Among the programs funded through ADVSD are those at SAGE, where Ulmer volunteers, Elders in Action and El Programa Hispano. Representatives from both of the latter also addressed the board.

Darlene Eckert, a volunteer personal advocate with Elders in Action, told the story of an older woman who was having trouble getting her apartment manager to address her needs under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Eckert was able to arrange a meeting with the apartment manager.

“Together we came up with a list of her needs,” Eckert said. “But she was able to use her own voice with my advocacy and support.”

Joaquin Pastor, a program manager at El Programa, urged the board to support programs and services that help older adults remain active in their communities and those that make housing more affordable for people on a fixed income.

The Older Americans Month board proclamation was introduced by Commissioner Loretta Smith, whose office is hosting a series of forums to help protect older adults from fraud and other predatory behavior.

“Older Americans have spent a lifetime enriching our community. Their trials and tribulations are our shared history and their legacy is the world we have today,” said Commissioner Loretta Smith, who presented the proclamation to the board. “That’s why it is so essential that we make sure their needs are met.”

The forums are:

  • Wednesday, May 24, 11:30 a.m., Native American Youth and Family Center, 5135 NE Columbia Blvd., Portland.
  • Thursday, June 8 , 12:30 p.m., Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 NE 40th Ave., Portland
  • Monday, June 12, 11:30 a.m., Impact NW, 4610 SE Belmont St., Portland
  • Wednesday, June 14, 11:30 a.m., Urban League of Portland, 10 N Russell St., Portland

A forum also is in the works for East County, Smith said.