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Women Help Each Other Plan for Future

'Decide. Create. Share.' program explores issues in health, legal, financial, housing realms

Sarah Zarbock, is a presenter in the �Design. Create. Share,� a program that offers women information and invites them to discuss financial and social issues that may affect their futures.

Sarah Zarbock, 65, of Lakeville, is a presenter in the “Decide. Create. Share.” program that offers women information and invites them to discuss financial and social issues that may affect their futures. — Photo by Gina LeVay

Sarah Zarbock, 65, was never comfortable talking about money. Like many women her age, she always avoided conversations about finances and planning.

That changed last summer when the Lakeville resident attended the training session of a program developed by AARP called "Decide. Create. Share."

See also: 10 steps to prepare for retirement.

The program helps women in their 40s, 50s and 60s take steps now to prepare for a healthy and safe future. Its mission is to encourage women to envision their futures, to create a plan to help them achieve their goals, and to share that plan with the people in their lives.

Woman to woman

About 50 volunteers who went through the training, including Zarbock, have begun making presentations at book groups, women's clubs, service organizations and other places women gather.

"We felt it was important for women to hear it from someone who is like them," said Laura Green, president of AARP Connecticut. "They'd be comfortable asking questions."

In small, informal settings, the volunteer facilitators provide information and then invite participants to discuss issues in four basic areas: health, finances, legal concerns, and home and community.

Participants are encouraged to talk about their own situations and to create a plan outlining how to reduce health risks, pay for long-term care, decide whether their homes will meet their needs in the future, and ensure their health care wishes are followed in an emergency.

Zarbock said the program "reminds me of the connections I had with women in the '70s. This feels like a re-creation of that time and the values we had of helping each other. Now we're aging women, and we need those connections again."

"Decide. Create. Share." is aimed at women because women tend to live longer than men and are far more likely to spend some of their later years alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that women who are 65 today can expect to live another 20 years. Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute projects that about 79 percent of 65-year-old women will need some long-term care during their lifetimes.

"What we want to communicate is that the time to think about this is now, before a crisis comes," Green said.

Next: Motivation and inspiration. »

Erica Michalowski, AARP Connecticut community outreach director, said she was "astounded by the leadership I saw" among the women who participated in the training session. "There were women who, the minute they got the training, knew exactly how they wanted to reach other women."

For instance, Joanne Davis, 58, a registered nurse who works with the Parish Nurse Ministry at Saint Paul Church in Glastonbury, led a session with women of the parish within three months of going through the training.

"We're providing the information to women to motivate and inspire them to think seriously about their future; talk with their families; make important, thoughtful and difficult decisions; and act on them."

Decisions are less scary

Janice Bird, 67, of Glastonbury, attended Davis' session and said it gave her "lots to think about."

She realized she needed to prepare a living will "recording my wishes as to the level of comfort with medication and when to pull the plug," she said. "I feel much more informed and secure about this whole matter of living longer."

Helen Benjamin, 75, of Stratford, also a volunteer facilitator, said the program takes the fear out of making decisions by providing information women need.

"We are telling them they can create the future that they want, that they can take control and make decisions. Our message is that it's very important to plan ahead."

AARP provides free checklists and resource materials that can be downloaded at Each of the four sessions can be presented in about an hour, or several can be grouped into a half-day event.

To arrange for a "Decide. Create. Share." presentation, call toll-free 1-866-295-7279 or send an email to

Also of interest: How much money do you need to retire? »

Sandi Shelton is a writer living in Guilford, Conn.

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