Jennifer Turk

Jennifer Turk, human services coordinator for the City of Phoenix, will discuss “Act Your Shoe Size, Not Your Age.”

Conferences on aging are often a somber affair, but that’s the opposite of what the Senior Advocacy Group of Ahwatukee has in store at its free conference next month.

Even the title of this year’s SAGA Senior & Family Conference – Successful Aging: Keys to a Fun and Exciting Life – hints at what’s in store for attendees at the four-hour gathering 8:30 a.m. Feb. 9 at the Ahwatukee Recreation Center, 5001 Cheyenne Drive, Ahwatukee.

This is the sixth annual conference on aging, but according to board members, this one was designed to focus on the positives of aging – and how to maintain joy in living as one ages.

“In planning for SAGA’s sixth event, we wanted to provide information about available resources and share something uplifting so people would leave inspired and motivated to live their best possible life,” said SAGA board member and retired attorney Annlouise Ferguson, the event chairperson.

“We started looking at the effects of a positive attitude and laughter on aging. I thought It would be novel to invite seniors and families to celebrate old age like they do in other cultures, not with dread but with excitement,” said Ferguson, who has been with SAGA since its 2011 inception.

“Our planning led us to believe a focus on having fun, staying active and connected despite age is just as important as knowing about the challenges aging brings,” she added.

Vicki McAllister, SAGA board chair, concurred.

“Many events for seniors focus on the negatives of getting older; we wanted to create a conference that would give fresh ideas for staying engaged and active,” said McAllister, who has served with SAGA for four years, the last three as a board member and officer.

“From the importance of laughter to demonstrations on low-impact sports, attendees will be able to discover new options for living their best life ever,” said McAllister. “It’s always important to look at our strengths versus looking at the negatives. This is important for family members of older adults to remember in their positive interactions together.”

Added Ferguson: “I want attendees to laugh, meet a friend or make a new one, enjoy a breakfast sandwich, have a chance to win a raffle basket, get some free swag while getting some solid information on a resource they’re interested in knowing about.

“I want them to celebrate their age, leave with the courage to alter the way they’ve always done something. Laughter is a great leveler and it helps everyone reinvent themselves, even during dreaded or celebrated times.”

Encouraging the laughter is the conference’s keynote speaker Amberly Neese, a celebrated speaker, humorist, author and adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University.

Special guest speaker is Jennifer Turk, human services program coordinator with the City of Phoenix, whose talk “Act Your Shoe Size, Not Your Age” is in keeping with the upbeat conference mode.

An Ahwatukee resident and ASU alumnus, Turk grew up in Tempe, where both parents were artists. Her father, Rudy Turk, was Arizona State University art director for 30 years.

“I assisted in taking care of both of my parents throughout their final aging process – they’ve both since passed. I’ve utilized that experience in my quest to provide quality services to the seniors of the City of Phoenix,” said Turk, a city staffer for 26 years.

“As the closing speaker at the SAGA conference, I hope to remind the participants to not lose sight of childhood ambitions – stay physically active, engage in continued learning and have fun,” she said.

Also on tap for the four-hour conference – which begins with a breakfast provided by Ahwatukee’s Chick-fil-A – are demonstrations and tips for staying fit as one ages.  

Ahwatukee Rec Center’s Carol Barron will show how to play pickleball, a popular low-impact sport for all ages.

Local tai chi instructor Anuradha Goyal will demonstrate and provide insight into the lifelong benefits of tai chi.

Goyal teaches classes at area senior centers, and Mondays and Wednesdays at the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA.

In addition, more than 30 exhibitors will be on hand, and giveaways and raffle baskets, donated by area businesses, will be other boons for attendees. It is the support of these businesses, and others who’ve donated, that helps fund the conference so admission remains free.

The support of local businesses is not only important for this morning conference, but for SAGA year-round.

“Businesses can and do benefit SAGA by participating as members, communicating SAGA’s message, contributing ideas to improve senior life, and supporting SAGA’s programs,” said Ferguson, an ardent SAGA advocate.

“I’m dedicated to SAGA for many reasons – the first is that I want it to remain sustainable.

“SAGA started as a partnership, then a corporation and now a nonprofit. SAGA does good work, responding to families quickly, more economically and with more knowledge of local resources than government ever could,” she said, adding:

“I like that people of all ages are involved with SAGA. SAGA’s membership is a who’s who list of professionals dedicated to seniors and their families.

“SAGA’s success has come not from any one person but from a community of talented volunteers and generous donors who believe in SAGA’s mission and SAGA’s ability to make a difference for the 80,000 people living behind South Mountain.”

MedStats is one of the services offered by SAGA. Developed in 2012, the program is an online tool that provides ICE (In Case of Emergency) information to emergency personnel and responders quick access to a patient’s medical history and contact information.

SAGA has also initiated an outreach service to seniors that include home visits to vulnerable older adults, and helps provide often overlooked local resources to better serve them and keep them connected.

Further information on both services is available on their website, SagaSeniors.org.

“Our SAGA mission and purpose is to provide resources, education and advocacy for the senior population of Ahwatukee and surrounding areas,” said McAllister.

“With the increased number of older adults, it will be imperative for communities like ours to provide help to area seniors in Ahwatukee without reliance on the competing interest and funds from neighboring municipalities,” she said.

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