Nonprofit Director Departs After 30 Years Helping Aging Vermonters
She's helped older Vermonters be more empowered, independent and to live out their golden years with dignity for three decades. Now Beth Stern is stepping down from her role as executive director of the nonprofit Central Vermont Council on Aging after 30 years with the organization, including 15 at its helm.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Stern about her time with CVCOA and the work she's done to help Vermonters age well. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: How did you start at CVCOA? How did this all begin?
Beth Stern: I started, actually, as a community organizer with CVCOA in 1990. Soon after that, I realized that wasn't the right job for me. And there came an opening for a position as a case manager supervisor. And so I did that for several years ,and then became a case manager director. And after that, became the executive director.
It actually was a career that I did not plan on. I actually have a degree in anthropology and a master's in intercultural management from the School for International Training in Brattleboro. So it wasn't something that I aspired to, but I always enjoyed working with older people. And when the possibility came that I could work for Central Vermont Council on Aging, it it certainly felt like the right move.
There are probably a lot of stereotypes about older people. I wonder if you learned about some of those and things that you could tell our audience that are just not right about the way people sometimes categorize older people?
Oh, definitely. At Central Vermont Council on Aging, and in the aging network in general, we really dispel those stereotypes, that once someone becomes a senior citizen — and we don't even use that term anymore — it means that they retire, that they're not contributing to society, or that they just stay home. And really, the opposite is true. People remain active. Many people still work. A lot of people volunteer. And they're still very much contributing members to society.
I have to imagine that the last six to seven months or so have been especially challenging. What has it been like? What have you seen change, now that COVID-19 has been such a hit to especially the older population (that's very vulnerable)?
One of the things that has come into clear focus has been the detrimental effects of social isolation. That has been an especially hard hit for older folks, when they can't see people that they might have been communicating with before in person.
One of the things that we have been trying to focus on has been increasing people's access to technology. And that's something that we were working on already, but not with such intense focus. So one of the things Central Vermont Council on Aging has done is to hire a new staff member, using some of the COVID funds we received, to really be able to help communicate, to do classes, to get information without having to do it in person.
One of the things that has been talked about a lot in Vermont over the last 10 to 20 years especially has been the aging population. You hear this all the time, folks say, "We need to keep younger people in Vermont, we need to keep people here."
But does that come, in some ways, at the expense of older Vermonters, who may feel that their contributions are not being appreciated enough?
Yes. I think that is an accurate statement. Of course, we want young people to stay here. We want to increase the population in Vermont. And one of the things that happened in this last legislative session, which we're really proud of, was the passage of the Older Vermonters Act. That is going to help develop a meaningful and comprehensive plan for aging in Vermont. How are we going to really make sure that this population which ... is 20-25% of the population of Vermont, how are we going to make sure they can live valuable lives?
You have been with this organization for 30 years. There's no way you can sort of focus on one person. But I do wonder if there's anybody you've come across in all your time at CVCOA that has really either become a friend, someone whose story moved you, or just somebody that you'll never forget?
The work that I do as director, I'm not working with older people directly , myself, all the time. I'm doing more of the administrative functions. So sometimes I can end up in my office and not see what I call "real people" sometimes. But what has really moved me is the dedication of the staff and the volunteers. Sometimes I would go out with them, or go to meal programs, so that I would actually be talking with the clients that we were serving. That was really, really important to me, to be able to see how we made a difference, and how the staff made a difference, in people's lives. Every day.
And Beth Stern, what's next for you personally?
Starting next week, I will be working as an outreach representative for Sen. Bernie Sanders. And one of my focus areas will be seniors and older people. So, I'll still be connecting with a lot of the same people that I know through this job. So I'm really excited about that.
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