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Seniors’ voice: AARP director looks to make difference

September 7, 2009

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Maren Turner, a Kansas University doctoral student, is director of AARP in Kansas. Her goals include affordable health insurance, closing the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” and creating Medicare transition benefits.

Maren Turner, a Kansas University doctoral student, is director of AARP in Kansas. Her goals include affordable health insurance, closing the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” and creating Medicare transition benefits.

Maren Turner was enticed to work for the AARP nearly 20 years before she would become eligible for membership.

Turner, 48, now is director of AARP in Kansas and a doctoral student at Kansas University.

“My original goal was to work with AARP for a short time,” the Lawrence resident explains. “I found I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with older people, so I stayed with them and the field of gerontology.”

Turner says she’s always been interested in people, community service initiatives and nonprofit organizations. During her childhood in Cleveland, she participated in neighborhood cleanups and worked as a volunteer at the local hospital’s snack bar.

She graduated from Columbia Union College in Maryland in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science in mental health counseling, a Master of Science in developmental psychology from Howard University, Washington, D.C., in 1989 and a Master of Arts in human development and certificate in gerontology from KU in 2007.

During her years in the D.C. area, she became an active voice for the rights of people with mental disabilities. She became a surrogate parent and court-appointed advocate for several people, including a little girl with multiple disabilities who lived in a nursing home. She worked as a court monitor to make sure people with disabilities were treated with dignity and respect in homes, the workplace and other environments.

Her advocacy work came to the AARP’s attention, and officials there invited her to apply for a grant-funded ombudsman position. She was awarded the grant and worked at the AARP’s national office in Washington.

When the grant ended, Turner was offered a permanent position at AARP’s Virginia office and then worked for five years at the Dallas regional office before moving to Kansas in 1999 to open an office in Topeka and become state director. Her first tasks were to hire staff and redesign the volunteer infrastructure needed to develop and implement AARP’s Kansas state plan.

“Today, most of my work centers on our campaign Health Action Now,” she says. “Our nonpartisan efforts with Congress and the White House proactively center on things we think should be included in health care reform.”

These things include guaranteeing access to affordable health insurance coverage for those ages 50 to 64, closing the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” and creating Medicare transition benefits to help people safely return to their homes after a hospital stay and prevent hospital readmissions.

She says it’s a challenge to balance full-time work responsibilities with her doctoral studies. But she says she enjoys her life and has a phenomenal support system of family and friends. She’s gained inspiration from AARP’s founder, Ethel Percy Andrus.

“She was a woman before her time in so many ways,” Turner says. “She saw a need and set about finding ways to help people maintain dignity throughout their lives, especially in retirement.

“I’d like to think I’ve taken a lesson from her book when I identify needs and move forward to make a difference in people’s lives.”

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