Fri, December 26, 2003
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12/26/03

Rummans fights for seniors

NORTH PORT -- When it comes to Florida's senior population, Laura Rummans has made it a priority to back up what she says with the facts.

The 68-year-old former recreational therapist can drop statistics into casual conversation without making you feel like you're being lectured.

"One-fourth of Florida's population are seniors," she said, "and I want to make sure seniors get everything they deserve."

Rummans sits on various boards in the area dedicated to improving the quality of life for seniors in the area.

"I think if you rest, you rust," she said.

Her current mission is to help push Communities for a Lifetime, Gov. Jeb Bush's initiative "to assist cities, towns and counties in planning and implementing improvements that benefit the lives of all their residents, youthful or senior," according to the state Department of Elder Affairs Web site.

"The goal is to make it possible for people to stay in their homes -- and out of a nursing home or assisted living facility -- for as long as they can," Rummans said.

For example, contractors are asked to build homes with walkers and wheelchairs in mind, while merchants are encouraged to provide bigger signs and wider aisles in stores.

Rummans is on the board of Senior Solutions of Southwest Florida, a seven-county agency that helps and informs seniors about state programs like SHINE, which offers free Medicare and health insurance education and counseling, as well as assistance with the state's new prescription drug plan.

"A lot of seniors come here and don't know what's available," Rummans said.

To help build awareness, Rummans writes a semi-regular column for the Sun on "positive aging."

Rummans said area seniors are not just interested in helping themselves. She works part-time for the Charlotte County Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, which finds service opportunities for people 55 and older. One of her proudest efforts there is helping with "Decisions to Win," which pairs volunteers with at-risk students to help them make important decisions.

Rummans, who sits on Sarasota County's Senior Advisory Council, said she hopes North Port will create a senior center, such as the one in Venice.

The city, she added, should also make better use of facilities like the George Mullen Center, provide more "senior-friendly" parks and build more sidewalks and more shaded bus stops.

Public transportation, she said, is critical to the city's senior population. She and other senior advocates hope the county will increase bus routes in the city.

"When you lose your car," Rummans said, "you lose your independence."

(Look for Laura Rummans' column on page 2 of today's Our Town.)

You can e-mail Garry Overbey at overbey@sun-herald.com.

By GARRY OVERBEY

Staff Writer

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