In sharp contrast to the stereotype of the elderly rocking away the hours in a porch swing are the more than 3,000 members of Betterment for United Seniors (BUS), an activist organization of elderly Prince George's County citizens that has been commended by such agencies as the Maryland Office on Aging, the Prince George's Community Ministries, the County Council and the county Department of Aging.
During the past five years BUS has been influentially involved in such issues as transportation, a senior health center, rent relief, Medicaid eligibility and local inspection of nursing homes.BUS members are now negotiating with store managers to expand stocking of "no frills" foods in supermarkets.
For larger issues, particularly those requiring state legislation, ad hoc coalitions are formed, bringing in other interested and influential agencies. This procedure was followed last spring in forming the Nursing Home Action Coalition, which succeeded in obtaining authority for local inspection of nursing homes.
Local issues are often pursued by specially formed committees. One of these is the Langley Park Senior Cleanup Committee, headed by Edythe Bascom. This group has already persuaded local authorities to install new lights and order street clean-up for the Langley Park Shopping Plaza area. Initially, this project focused on the overflowing dumpsters and trash pile-up on Edwards Place, which runs along the back of stores in the northeast corner of the New Hampshire Avenue-University Boulevard intersection.
The group then organized a drive to clean up the back of the Langley Park Shopping Center on the northwest corner of the intersection. The committee has gained cooperation from the county Health Department and other agencies including the Sanitary Commission and the Department of Public Works. Merchants themselves were found to be concerned about the failure of absentee landlords to provide adequate care for the area, according to the clean-up committee.
Through the efforts of the committee, the cooperating agencies and merchants, the Langley Park shopping area is greatly improved, said the committee. Some stores have fenced in areas for their dumpsters to discourage indiscriminate use of these facilities by passersby. Grassy areas have been moved and "no dumping" signs erected.
BUS was formed about five years ago when a Brentwood supermarket closed, requiring residents to travel to a distant market. Concerned citizens were successful in obtaining transportation service to existing shopping centers with the help of the Department of Aging.
From this beginning, the organization has grown into a vital one advocating betterment of conditions for seniors and the community in many areas. There is a small professional staff that works with the senior citizens leadership in defining issues, conducting needed research and planning action for improvement.
BUS now gets much of its direction from an annual convention devoted to identifying the most pressing issues for the elderly. Senior clubs and other groups for the elderly send delegates. The next annual convention is to be held Sept. 23 in the Student Union Building at the University of Maryland in College Park. Observers from outside the organization are welcome to attend by arrangement with the BUS office, telephone 853-2400.
BUS also organizes quarterly training workshops designed to help seniors help themselves. These sessions deal with such matters as how to organize groups, how to work with the media or with legislative bodies, how to identify and define issues and how to conduct research that could lead to successful actioN.
An executive board, made up of elected officers, chairmen of issues and standing committees and delegates from participating senior groups, meets monthly to determine policy, raise funds and make administrative decisions. Funding is provided by private foundations, government grants, church and business support and individual and community donations.