20201023_bta_Beth Stern

Central Vermont Council on Aging Executive Director Beth Stern, pictured in her Barre office on Thursday, is leaving the agency after 30 years with the council.

20201023_bta_Beth Stern

BARRE — After 30 years at the Central Vermont Council on Aging, Beth Stern is ready for a new challenge.

The nonprofit is one of five such agencies in the state that work to support those 60 years old and older to live with dignity and choice.

Stern has held roles such as case manager supervisor and director of case management at the agency before spending the past 15 years as the council’s executive director. She said the agency’s vision is to see a world where aging is honored instead of seen as a negative.

“If we’re lucky, we all age,” she said. “Aging shouldn’t be feared or dreaded.”

When she first started working at the agency, Stern said the council focused mainly on friendly visits with older residents. Now, she said it focuses on supporting older people to make sure they get the services they need and to empower them to make decisions.

“There’s definitely more accountability now to make sure that we’re actually helping people get what they need and really working with them to find out what it is they want and need. You can go into somebody’s house and you can have an idea of what they might need, but really that might not be their issue. So we really do a lot of work to find out what the person themselves wants, what life they want to live and how we can support that. We’re not there to make decisions for people. How we think someone should live might not really be what they want,” Stern said.

One of the biggest changes she’s seen during her tenure at the council is advancement of technology. When she started, she said the agency had one typewriter to share and a mimeograph, or stencil duplicator. Now she said everyone there has a computer.

Much of the work the council does is now done online and older residents also need to access the internet to help connect them with services. Stern said the agency has hired a technology specialist to work with residents to help them interact with technology so they can access the things they need.

What older residents need to live happy, healthy lives has also changed. She said those who work with older residents now know social isolation can have negative impacts on mental and physical health.

“The focus before might be just to make sure they can live independently,” Stern said. “The focus now is how can they live independently, but also stay connected? So if you’re an older person living on top of a mountain all by yourself, that may not be a very healthy way to live. So how can we make sure that person has social connections?”

The agency also works to re-frame how people perceive those who are older. She said Vermont has an aging demographic and people need to realize those who are older are still active. They work, volunteer and pay taxes.

“Just because someone is a ‘senior citizen,’ it doesn’t necessarily mean they are sitting at home not doing anything,” she said.

Part of her job as executive director involves legislative advocacy, both at the state and federal level. Stern said she loves that part of the job, trying to address issues at a systemic level. So when she was offered a job as an outreach representative out of St. Johnsbury as part of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ staff, she jumped at the chance. Her last day at the council is Oct. 31.

At her new job, Stern said she will attend events, when they are allowed again once the novel coronavirus pandemic ends, and act as Sanders’ representative. She will listen to residents about what their issues are, with a focus on social services.

Stern said 30 years is a long time at one agency and while she could have continued her career at the council, she wanted a new challenge. She said she will miss the staff and Barre, which she called her “work home,” but she’s confident the council is in good hands with a dedicated staff and active board of directors.

Emily McKenna, co-president of the council’s board, said “commitment” is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Stern and the work she’s done.

“She’s incredibly committed to the community, to the clients that the council serves. She’s incredibly open minded about new programs and adapting with and how health care is constantly evolving in our community,” McKenna said.

The council has appointed two veteran staff members to serve as interim directors while it works on finding Stern’s replacement. McKenna said the council doesn’t have a timeline in place to find a new director, but she hopes whoever it hires understands the importance of helping older residents age with dignity.

(1) comment

William R Walsh

The CVCOA does a fantastic job! We are fortunate to have such dedicated people working on behalf of our senior population.

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