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‘Silver haired’ reps look to improve senior services in South Carolina

Posted: January 25, 2013 6:03 p.m.
Updated: January 28, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Remond Cooper and Ed Stokes may not be creatures of politics, but they’re currently helping to provide South Carolina seniors with an added voice in state government.

As members of the S.C. Silver Haired Legislature (SCSHL), the two Camden residents work as part of a group of older volunteers who research, debate and discuss issues of interest to the state’s senior citizens.

Stokes, a retired pastor, has been a SCSHL member for two years and serves as vice chairman of the Santee-Lynches Region, which includes Kershaw, Clarendon, Lee and Sumter counties.

“It’s fun and we feel like we’re helping and giving something back to the community,” Stokes said.

Cooper, a first year member, said he’s been impressed with the goals and objectives of the group so far.

“They’re trying to address concerns and needs for the aging population, especially with the Baby Boomers, which is one of the largest age groups,” Cooper said, referring to those born between the years 1946 and 1964.

Created in 1999 by then-Gov. Jim Hodges, the SCSHL meets every September in its own “legislative session” at the State House in Columbia to formulate resolutions that are presented to the S.C. General Assembly the following January.

Stokes said the Santee-Lynches group, one of 10 distinct geographic caucuses, also meets eight times a year in Sumter to hash out goals on a local level.

He also explained that each year, the group’s speaker -- currently Marjorie Johnson of Columbia -- presents the SCSHL’s top priority list to the General Assembly’s Speaker of the House, currently Rep. Bobby Harrell of Charleston.

“What they do with it is really up to them,” Stokes said, referring to members of the S.C. House and Senate.

 The group’s top three goals this session include:

•providing funding for in-home and community-based services;

•establishing a legislative committee on aging; and

•addressing transportation needs for seniors, specifically affordability and availability.

Cooper said he’s cared for family and friends that have reached the latter years of life and said it typically takes some getting used to.

“There’s a great need. A lot of the aging population lived an affluent, upper-middle, or middle class life during their working years. Then, when they retire and reach that age group, it’s difficult for them to maintain that standard of living,” Cooper said.

He hopes the group continues to make a strong push in particular towards providing more funding for in-home care.

“It’s extremely expensive to place someone in a public facility,” Cooper said. “A lot of the time, they can’t take care of themselves. Some need 24-hour-a-day care. A lot of the times, their children have grown up with families of their own and moved away. Some have family members that can assist, but many don’t.”

Stokes said with rising health care costs, many senior citizens simply can’t afford it.

“This is where we need some help,” he said.

The SCSHL falls under the state’s lieutenant governor’s office, currently held by Glenn McConnell.

Cooper indicated that McConnell has displayed a strong awareness towards issues facing seniors.

“He really seems to have a lot of interest. One thing that has concerned us is that the caucus has not been as visible in the community and in the state as we would like it to be. The lieutenant governor seems to recognize that as well and wants to work to enhance our visibility,” Cooper said.

Stokes expressed a need for additional feedback and hoped more seniors would become involved in the effort.

“Maybe there’s something that we haven’t run across yet and maybe we can address, but we need the input of the aging population,” he said. “We can’t make a law. All we can do is make a proposal, but at least we can do that.”

The county is eligible to have three representatives serve on the caucus. Stokes said there are only two qualifications to come on board.

“Obviously, you don’t have to have silver hair,” he said with a laugh. “You must be at least 65-years-old and be eligible to vote.”

Any senior interested in volunteering with the SCSHL can call Cooper at 425-0084 or Stokes at 432-4488.

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