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Wanted: Missouri Advocates


Summary:

• AARP Missouri is looking for advocacy volunteers
• Advocacy volunteers work with members of the legislature and Congress
• Focus is on improving the lives of older people

As a hospital chaplain in Jefferson City, Jan Schupp prayed many times with relatives of patients who wanted to be allowed to die but were given CPR against their wishes by emergency medical technicians outside of a hospital.

As an AARP volunteer, Schupp worked to help prevent such ordeals from occurring, urging passage of a 2007 law allowing do-not-resuscitate orders to override regulations that governed paramedics in emergencies.

“In the hospital they would bring in a frail, elderly person, obviously dead before they had gotten to the hospital, and they had done CPR on him because that is what emergency technicians had to do. The families would say, ‘Dad didn’t want this. He wanted to die peacefully at home.’ ”

Dying with dignity

AARP legislative advocate Susan Bossch meets State Representative Chuck Gatschenberger at a breakfast in Jefferson City.

Schupp, 64, who left her job because of a rare illness and became an AARP volunteer, said the issue of dying with dignity had been part of her life for a long time.

“I want to live,” Schupp said. “I had survived a bad situation. If I’m not dead yet, do everything you can to keep me alive, but if I’m dead, leave me dead.”

Schupp is part of an active, effective group of Missouri volunteers managed by Norma Collins, AARP’s associate state director for advocacy. With more issues to cover than staff to handle them, AARP Missouri wants more volunteers to push for improvements in the lives of older people.

Train volunteers to approach government officials

Collins trains volunteers to have the knowledge and poise to approach government officials and make a persuasive case. From Congress to the Missouri legislature, she wants to cover as many bases as possible, so she recruits people like Schupp who are savvy about the system and able to learn information, then pass it along.

“As long as someone is willing to meet with or reach out to elected officials, they can be a member of our team,” Collins said.

AARP Missouri has 1,625 volunteers, including those in its Tax-Aide and Driver Safety programs, but only about 60 are in the advocacy program.

On target with the message

Ilena Aslin, of Cape Girardeau, shown here with State Representative Terry Swinger, is one of 60 AARP Missouri legislative advocates.

One active member is Jim Clemmons, AARP Missouri’s president. Previously, he had volunteered in Washington state. In both states, he fought against privatizing Social Security and raising Medicare premiums. Clemmons, 69, said AARP helps volunteers hone their message so they are more effective with public officials. “When we write letters, we have already been over the issues so many times, we’re right on target with the message we want to convey,” he said.

Bennie Daugherty, 83, became president of AARP Missouri in 2000 and saw the effectiveness of advocates in the fight against privatizing Social Security. Noting that “hindsight is always best,”

Daugherty said the stock market crash was proof that privatization was the wrong way to handle older Americans’ financial future. “All those people who would have put their money in the stock market would have less than they do now under Social Security.”

For Schupp, an advocate since 2004, turning her passion about an issue into action gave her a newfound sense of power and purpose, even though the legislative process was often frustrating.

“I would say, ‘What can one disabled chaplain do? I have no power. I want something to happen, but who am I?’ ” Schupp said. “By joining AARP and being an advocate and having the strength of AARP behind me, I now say that one disabled chaplain can do a lot.”

Dale Singer is a freelance writer living in St. Louis, Mo.

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