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The Baltimore Sun

Senior Circles: There's more than a day's worth of activities to do and see at 50+ Expo

It was overwhelming, exhilarating, packed with information, entertaining and ultimately relaxing. What am I describing? It was the 50+Expo presented by the Howard County Department of Citizens Services, Office on Aging.

The event was held Oct. 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Wild Lake High School, in Columbia. This was the first year my schedule allowed me to attend. I parked at the Columbia mall (lower level Sears Customer Service area) and rode the door-to-door courtesy shuttle provided by HT Ride. The buses were plentiful and it was a stress-free ride to and from.

This year's theme "Celebrating the many faces of 50+!" recognized the diverse senior population in Howard County and showcased what the county has to offer seniors, their families and caregivers in the way of resources, programs and services to meet their needs. The expo was packed not only with attendees but with educational seminars, living green fair, 140 exhibitors, health fair, food and entertainment in Café 50+.

I spent most of my time checking out exhibits, interviewing vendors, enjoying the second show of the Capitol Steps, eating lunch and finishing off the day on a relaxing note with a concert by the Bain Howard Community College Chorus and a ballet presentation by Ballet Mobile. I did take a walk through the health fair to see what they had to offer, taking note for next year.

Howard County General Hospital's health fair offered free screenings and education on balance, blood pressure, bone density, breast health, carotid artery, emotional wellness, colorectal education, glaucoma screening, hearing, height/weight Body Mass Index, oral cancer screening, podiatry, pulmonary function, pulse oximetry, skin analyzer and stroke education. They Howard County Health Department administered flu and pneumonia vaccinations. Flu shots were free with Medicare Part B card and all others $20; pneumonia injections were $55.

As I said earlier, the expo was overwhelming — so much to see and do and so little time. In addition to not having time to participate in the health fair, I also didn't get to hear any of the speakers on Alzheimer's disease, vascular disease, career and life skills, and healthy and proactive aging, which had some interesting topics – Dating over 50, Avoiding Scams, Stealing Trust about debt and foreclosures and Fall Prevention.

I also missed the Living Green Fair, a number of entertainment venues and "Keeping the Keys" presented by AAA and the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education, featuring experts in the field of driving safety, focusing on senior driving and safety.

Lots of handouts were available, not only informational brochures but specialty items, which included a box of Victory candy cigarettes with a label, which said "Turn nasty habits into sweet successes! Visit one of Howard County's Finest 50+ Centers." Among the many other free items were a lighted magnifier from the Office on Aging, a tote bag from the Howard County General Hospital, a pencil from Meals on Wheels and fun-size M&Ms from Ballet Mobile, which tied in to its advertisement, "M – Music + M – Movement + M – Mental imagery, use them for healing and good health."

The reviews are in

Here are some views on the expo, other than mine. My first vendor stop was the booth for Howard Community College, which offers educational programs for seniors age 60 and older. In talking about the expo to Roxanne Farrar, the college's continuing education coordinator, she said that attendees have a lot of questions and usually follow up on courses, programs and cultural events provided by the college. She considers the expo "an opportunity to connect with the 50+ population" and talking with other vendors helps her to develop partnerships with them.

Pamela Simonson, from The Volunteer Center Serving Howard County, has been working the expo for more than 10 years and she has often reconnected with volunteers she had placed within Howard County organizations. Pamela is the center's disaster volunteer coordinator.

I ran into Kira Lis, of Computer Seniors of America, who taught me all about Facebook in a CSA class I took. Kira said that they have expanded their courses to the North Laurel 50+ Center at the North Laurel Community Center and are also offering an open lab and Q&A session there twice a week for anyone who has a question or needs some hands-on with a computer problem.

Inge Hyder, who sings with the Bain Howard Community College Chorus, loves to come to the expo every year. "It gets better every year," Hyder said. She sang in the Bain chorus' performance of popular songs and show tunes in the Café 50+.

Howard County program supervisor for Meals on Wheels Hannah Hedrick-Cox has been working the expo for three years and said that she will definitely be back next year.

"It is a wonderful event, which brings all kinds of people and businesses together," she said.

Hannah said that she takes names and phones of people interested in volunteering and connects with them later.

The Loan Closet of Howard County is a not-for-profit that I had not heard of before. Way Station, the Howard County Office on Aging and the Rotary Club of Columbia collaborated to open the Loan Closet in 2004. The 'Closet' makes free temporary loans of medical equipment to those in need. Kristin Ucciardo said that they accept donated medical equipment, which is tax deductible. Terri Butler, also of Loan Closet, described the expo as "awesome." She said that the 50+Expo generates new interest in businesses.

Becky Sieck is the administrator for the Coalition of Geriatric Services, a nonprofit network of professionals working together to improve the lives of older adults. Becky finds the expo a chance to learn a lot, be able to refer people to businesses in the coalition and as a chance to educate each other.

Barbara Snyder, associate publisher of "Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook," found the expo very impressive. She said that people are looking for information to plan for their future. The book, which is free, is supported by paid advertisements. Go to http://www.retirement-living.com for more information and to order a free SourceBook. Barbara told me that she had handed out 400 of the guides in the first two hours of the expo and by the time I reached her table there were none left. I was able to order one from her.

Shelly Garten, assistant administrator at the Howard County Office on Aging, and Kim Henry, communications and outreach for the Department of Citizens Services of the Howard County Office on Aging, were both thrilled with the huge crowd and agreed that this year's expo was the biggest yet, with the largest attendance to date.

Garten said that the attendees are getting good information for the future and that the Office on Aging is a trusted source of unbiased information for older adults, their families and caregivers. Henry made sure I knew about the AAA older driver's safety presentation and the living green exhibit. She also stressed their partnership with Wild Lake High School, which is the home of the expo.

Before I did my walk-through of the health fair, I chatted with Ellen Brown, whom I remembered from the East Columbia 50+ Center. Ellen told me that the most popular screenings were pulmonary function, blood pressure, glaucoma, carotid artery, hearing and balance.

Capitol Steps perform

At this point, it was time for the Capitol Steps, whose members have an odd, but hilarious way of looking at the news. In the introduction to the show, the announcer asked that we remain seated and wait for a government bailout. The show left no politician unscathed and caused the audience to laugh continuously. It was a great laughter break from the hectic rush of the expo.

The Capitol Steps are celebrating their 30th anniversary, having started in 1981 as Congressional staffers at a Senate office Christmas party. Their website, http://www.capsteps.com, notes that in planning for the entertainment for that party, "Their first idea was to stage a nativity play but in the whole Congress they couldn't find three wise men or a virgin." After the show I approached two of the members, Brad Van Grack and Jamie Zemarel, who played off each other and told me that they were glad to be at the expo after having been celebrating Gaddafi's demise.

It was time for lunch and some more entertainment available in the Café 50+. While eating, I listened to the Bain Chorus, which was relaxing. I found out that a lady in my church sings with the chorus. She told me that the singing group from the Bain Center also sings at nursing homes and other senior facilities.

The close of my day at the expo was a dance performance by Ballet Mobile of an interactive ballet inspired by the classic "Sleeping Beauty" and J.R.R. Tolkien's works. Listening to the music and watching the graceful movements of the ballerinas were also very relaxing and welcoming. The dancers included the audience in their dance and the audience was encouraged to learn the positions of the arms and move them to the music. I was very impressed with the young girls and young women performers. One of the young girls danced over to where I was seated and put her arms around me without touching and said to me, "Thank you for coming." That just topped off my day at the expo.

Ellen Walsh, Ballet Mobile's mistress of ceremonies, talked to me briefly after the show. She told me that this all volunteer, charitable performing arts company was the idea of Renée Meyer, its founding and artistic director. The website http://www.balletmobile.org states that Ballet Mobile, The Bookmobile of Dance, "combines movement, music and mental imagery in a way that touches the heart and lifts the spirits."

Having gotten the lay of expo land this year, I will be better prepared for next year's event and plan ahead to prioritize what I want to accomplish there. In closing, I would like to thank the Howard County Department of Citizen Services, Office on Aging, and the 50+Expo's many sponsors and partners and everyone who made this outstanding event possible. The 50+Expo provides a wonderful educational, social, cultural experience for older adults and their families. Now I know why seniors look forward to attending each year.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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