SENIORS : Political, Physical Workout : A Chance to get involved in what was once the 'Silver-Haired Legislature,' and mall-walking programs.

There's still time to let your three California Senior Legislature representatives know what concerns you want raised at the organization's 10th annual session.

The 120-member California Senior Legislature will convene at the state Capitol in Sacramento Oct. 15-18. Anyone interested may attend and testify before any of the 10 committees that will be hearing proposed legislation.

According to Ventura Senior Assemblywoman Maxine Culp, 67, the CSL is a vocal advocate for the more than 4.2 million elderly citizens in California. "The CSL has been very effective in bringing the top legislative priorities of the elderly of this state to the attention of the state Legislature and the governor and in getting these priorities signed into law," Culp said.

Since it was created 10 years ago, the CSL has had up to a 75% success rate in getting its proposed legislation enacted into law. Now failure to report elderly or dependent-adult abuse is a misdemeanor.

Joseph Gaynes, 78, is the county's senior senator. A resident of Camarillo, Gaynes said the two top local concerns are the need for an affordable health-care system and transportation for the elderly. Ventura County's other senior assembly member, 74-year-old Lee Strohbehn of Ojai, said health care was the No. 1 issue at last year's session.

Originally called the "Silver-Haired Legislature," the CSL was modeled on the California Legislature, with 40 senior senators and 80 members of the Senior Assembly. There are similar organizations in 24 states. Volunteer members are registered voters over the age of 60 who have been elected by their peers through area agencies on aging.

CSL representatives seek members in the state Legislature to author bills and to advocate the adoption of priority legislation. They also meet with senior constituents in their areas to draft age-related bills for consideration at the CSL session.

Moreover, the legislators develop local senior advocacy policy, testify at hearings, activate letter or phone campaigns and coordinate fund-raising activities on the local level for the group.

The CSL is sponsored by the California Commission on Aging and is funded mainly by contributions to the California Fund for Senior Citizens--up to $325,000 annually--via state income tax returns. The balance from taxpayer contributions goes to direct senior service programs selected by the state Commission on Aging.

Linda Varvaroff, special projects coordinator at the state commission, said that in recent years they were able to fund mobile dental services for the bedridden, peer mental health counseling programs and emergency response systems with excess CSL funds. Last year, they provided $75,000 for elderly victims of the San Francisco earthquake.

"One gentleman in his 70s told me that the Senior Legislature had changed his life," Varvaroff said. "Before then, he'd never gotten involved in politics. He proved that citizens can be involved at any age and make a difference."

Health Tip: You don't have to participate in the County's Senior Olympics to get in shape. Try walking. The large shopping malls open early for this purpose. With a controlled climate and level surfaces, malls provide a safe, comfortable place to walk alone or in groups.

If you need motivation, join a mall-walking program at little or no cost. Members sign in on arrival and learn how to check their heart rate before and during exercise. They also receive incentive awards and are eligible for discounts on walking shoes at certain stores.

Watch out for Vivian Pohler whooshing by wearing her 500-mile visor award. The 68-year-old "trains" at the Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks, where two laps equal a mile. More than 700 miles and 18 months ago, Pohler was newly widowed and would become breathless after a few steps. Since she became a "Heart for Seniors Mall-Waltzer," her health and mood have improved greatly. "Now I climb the escalator steps for fun," Pohler said.


Schedules of hearings and copies of proposed legislation are available at the office of the California Commission on Aging, 1020 9th St., Room 260, Sacramento 95814, (916) 322-5630. For information locally, call 482-7085 or 646-3078.


"The Energizers Mall Walk Program," The Esplanade, 195 Esplanade Drive, Oxnard. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 to 10 a.m. Meet at Center Court. Call 485-1146 or 988-1518.

"A Heart for Seniors Mall-Waltz Program," Oaks Mall, 222 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 8 a.m. by McDonald's on upper level. There is a $2 annual insurance cost. Call 492-2088.

"Walk for Life," Buenaventura Plaza, 363 S. Mills Road, Ventura. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 to 10 a.m. Participants meet at the food court, where their blood pressure and pulse are taken. Call 652-5095.

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