Cookies and dessert bring out the voices of aging seniors

Provided by the Milwaukee County Department on Aging

Seniors participate in a MCDA area plan listening session held at Washington Park Senior Center. (Photo by Robert A. Bell)

How is it possible that cookies and dessert could have a direct and positive impact on the health, wellness and independence for Milwaukee County’s aging community? Well, for the last 10 months, the Milwaukee County Department on Aging (MCDA) in partnership with Wisconsin AARP conducted “Cookies & Conversations” and “Dessert & Discussions” listening sessions with area older adults in Milwaukee County.

“Cookies and Conversations” were lead by approximately 67 trained volunteers. Over coffee and cookies small group and one-on-one, peer-to-peer conversations were held, dissecting the needs of seniors in Milwaukee County.

These sessions were held at private homes, churches and community venues. Approximately, 1,000 people 60 years plus were reached through “Cookies” and Conversations” sessions.

At each of the area county-owned senior centers, MCDA staff in collaboration with the Commission on Aging commissioners and advisors led lively “Dessert and Discussions” sessions, gathering much useful and important planning information from seniors, professionals, and caregivers.

In addition to face-to-face meetings, local seniors completed and submitted over 700 surveys both on-line and as hard copies. The purpose of these sessions and surveys was to hear from the community and assess the needs of the County’s older adult population before preparing the Milwaukee County’s Area Plan for Older Adults.

Every three years the Milwaukee County Department on Aging is required to submit an Area Plan for Older Adults to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources. The local Area Plan informs the state and federal government on how MCDA intends to service the needs of the senior people in Milwaukee County. The voices heard in the public listening sessions and surveys determined the direction and focus of the local goals for the MCDA Area Plan.

“These listening sessions were extremely important in developing the local area goals of the Area Plan,” states Stephanie Sue Stein, MCDA Director. “What’s important to our older adults in the community, is what is important to us at MCDA.” “We, at MCDA, respect the voice of the people we serve, in fact, the mission of the Milwaukee County Department on Aging is to affirm the dignity and value of older adults of Milwaukee County by supporting their choices for living in and giving to our community,” explains Stein.

In collecting the results of almost 2,500 public voices, four areas of importance rose to the top for the Milwaukee County older adult population. The MCDA will take the lead on the following three areas.

Home Repair and Chore Service

One of the biggest obstacles many seniors face to remain independent in their homes is access to reliable home repair and chore maintenance. Lack of help with home maintenance can be very stressful and frustrating to those wanting to and capable of staying in their own homes. Believing in its importance, the MCDA will take action in identifying private and community partners that are certified, trustworthy, and skilled in home repair and/or chore delivery services, and will disseminate this information to the public through various communication vehicles.

Communication About Aging Programs and Services

“We know that knowledge is power, therefore the more information our senior community has the healthier and more independent they may remain,” says, Stein. “Knowing what services and programs are available is crucial to make appropriate lifestyle choices.”

Currently, the MCDA’s outreach and awareness efforts are implemented through professional staff, Senior Ambassadors, commissioners, committee and council members, advocates and volunteers and special educational events/activities.

However, as a result of our research and feedback, current efforts need to be expanded. “Taking to heart these concerns, we will work diligently to enhance communication efforts to include social media tools, more community partnerships and more education programs,” emphasizes, Jonette Arms, Assistant Director, MCDA. “Its extremely important to provide our community of seniors with the best information to make the right choices for a healthy, active, independent and contributing lifestyle.”

Opportunities for Social Engagement

Recent research has shown that Milwaukee County older adults live alone at a higher rate than the rest of the state of Wisconsin (Faces of Aging 2012, p.8). Recognizing the critical connection between social interaction and overall health and wellness, the MCDA is committed to increasing the awareness of available social engagement opportunities in Milwaukee County.

It has become clear there is a lack of knowledge related to the area senior centers, fitness centers, evidence based preventative programs, special events and educational opportunities. MCDA along with other community-based organizations will partner to increase awareness and develop ways to communicate social engagement opportunities that would be of interest to older adults in Milwaukee County.

Seniors from the listening sessions also expressed a deep desire to interact more with their younger peers. In response to this request, the MCDA staff and the Intergenerational Council will expand senior and youth memberships, plan an intergenerational symposium, and create recommendations for future collaborations.

The MCDA was fortunate to work in partnership with the AARP in this planning and information gathering process. As a result of this great partnership, AARP will graciously tackle the fourth identified goal that embraces financial resources, financial planning, and retirement preparation. With this effort, AARP will build supporting local partnerships while introducing and integrating its “Ready for Retirement”, financial planning toolkit into Milwaukee County’s older adult community.

To review the full Milwaukee County Area Plan for Older Adults 2013-2015, visit MCDA’s website at or call 414-289-5950 to obtain a copy.

This is the second article in a series of articles the Milwaukee County Department on Aging will publish under the Milwaukee Courier’s Community EngAGEment column. Our goal is to keep the community informed and aware of opportunities, events, and choices that will help older adults age with dignity. Monthly articles will educate you on the many services, resources and partnerships available for Milwaukee County seniors.

News For You

Free Fitness Assessments

New at our five county-owned senior centers, Interfaith Older Adult Program is offering free fitness center orientations for older adults. Fitness centers are conveniently located at Clinton and Bernice Rose, McGovern, Washington, Wilson, and Lawrence P. Kelly Milwaukee County senior centers. To learn more and obtain details, contact Randy Kohl at 414-289-6633 or

Milwaukee County Senior Hall of Fame

Nominations are closed and the selection committee is in the process of identifying Milwaukee County’s Senior Hall of Fame 2013 Inductees. Please keep your eyes and ears open to learn who is named as Milwaukee County Senior Hall of Fame 2013 inductees during early spring. More details will follow in upcoming articles.

Milwaukee County Golden Idol

Beginning Friday, March 1, 2013, Milwaukee County Golden Idol applications will be available at all Milwaukee County senior centers. If you or someone you know has a performing arts talent, do not miss this awesome opportunity. Application deadline is March 29, 2013 at 4:00 p.m.

For more information or for an application, contact Diane Beckley at 414-289-6376 or, or visit the Milwaukee County Department on Aging website at

Milwaukee County Golden Idol voting parties

Get out and have some fun.

Cast your vote at local area senior center “voting parties”, vote for your favorite act or performance. Contact your local senior center for details on dates and times.

Visit Milwaukee County Department on Aging Staff

Visit us at the following events:

• Milwaukee County Open House on Tuesday, April 9, at the Milwaukee County Courthouse from 9am to 2pm.

• 50 Plus Fest & Retirement Show on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at Mayfair Mall from 9:00am to 2:00pm. The Milwaukee County Golden Idols will perform on the main stage.

To learn more about the Milwaukee County Department on Aging services and programs, please call 414-289-6874 or visit our website at The Milwaukee County Department on Aging is located at 1220 W. Vliet Street, Milwaukee, WI, Suite 300.

The mission of the Milwaukee County Department on Aging is to affirm the dignity and value of older adults of Milwaukee County by supporting their choices for living in and giving to our community.