Students Engage in Advocacy at the Georgia State Capitol
One of the benefits of Georgia State Gerontology is its proximity to the Georgia State Capitol. Over the past month GSU Gerontology students were able to take advantage of this by participating in the Be There 4 Seniors Rally on January 28, 2016 and the Gerontology Student Workforce Day at the Capitol on February 2, 2016.
For the past few years, GSU students and faculty have attended “Be There 4 Seniors Rally” to show their support for Georgia’s seniors and effective advocacy on behalf of older adults. This year, the GSU Alpha Omega chapter of Sigma Phi Omega (an International Honor Society for Gerontology) hosted a breakfast and poster-making session before the Rally. About a dozen students gathered to learn the policy priorities for Older Adults in this year’s legislature. After breakfast, we all walked to the Capitol to attend the rally at Liberty Plaza.
We were a highly visible group, walking through downtown Atlanta holding signs advocating for older adults. As we walked, some cars honked their horns in support of our cause. Once we arrived at the Rally, it was inspirational to see a large crowd which included older adults and other advocates. We were able to network with professionals working in the aging network. In some cases, we reconnected with individuals who visited our classes at GSU. We also had the opportunity to meet new individuals such as alumni of the Gerontology Program and leaders in the aging network.
The atmosphere was very inspiring, with everyone unified in support of the needs of Georgia’s seniors. One of the most compelling parts of the Rally was hearing personal testimony from citizens who benefit from senior programs. One gentleman from Gwinnett County spoke about how his mother benefitted from community based services and meals-on-wheels. Another older gentleman, who receives meals-on-wheels, expressed appreciation for the services and the social engagement and spoke of how his dog even benefitted from the visits. Each testimonial was sincere and gave us insight into the experience of real people who benefit from state-funded services. Students loved the opportunity to see so many seniors at the Rally advocating for themselves. The heartfelt stories that were shared illustrated the impact of state-funding for senior services and the importance of advocacy. Most importantly the Rally inspired people to continue to advocate for seniors and reinforced for us why we want to study and work in the field of gerontology.
On February 2, the Georgia Council on Aging (GCOA) sponsored the first Gerontology Student Workforce Day. This event included an introduction to legislative priorities effecting seniors, a talk from Senator Renee Unterman (District 45), Walter Coffey (Leading Age Georgia), and Dr. Jennifer Craft Morgan (GSU Gerontology). Then the GCOA led a session on Advocacy 101, the importance of each citizens voice, and how to “work the ropes” in order to meet with your legislators. MA student Courtney Leavy reports “I was able to tour the Capitol, sit in on a bill that was voted upon and meet my Senator for Clayton County! She was so warm-spirited and very welcoming. I had a wonderful time learning the significance of advocating, voting and voicing my concerns!”
After visiting the Capitol and trying to speak to our legislators (many of whom had already left for the day), we returned to the Coverdell Legislative Office Building for lunch and an opportunity to network with students from other universities, professionals, and leadership from GCOA. Overall it was an amazing opportunity to de-mystify the experience of advocacy at the Georgia Capitol and to remind us that every voice counts. We look forward to this becoming an annual event and participating again in future years.
By Jessica Adiyiah, Megan Koepnick, Eugenie Stephenson, and Courtney Leavy
Jessica Adiyiah is a full-time MA gerontology student, who is currently finishing up her first year. Megan Koepnick is completing her first year as a full-time MA Gerontology student; and Eugenie Stephenson and Courtney Leavy are completing their second year in the Gerontology MA program.