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Connecting retirees to conservation

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retirees and solar panels

Retirees learn about sustainable energy during recent field trip to a solar-powered residence.

A new partnership between the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging and The Nature Conservancy is responding to two critical trends in society todaymounting concern about environmental sustainability and an aging population.

The Conservation Retirees in Service to the Environment program, an environmental education and leadership training program for adults over 60, is a new collaboration between the two organizations that builds on the original Retirees in Service to the Environment program (RISE), seeking to create environmental leaders who will play an active role as conservancy volunteers and environmental stewards in their communities.

“This program addresses the critical intersection of two important issues – environmental sustainability and an aging population,” said Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development, professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

“Retirees are an underutilized resource who have the time, talent and skills to help address issues like climate change, air and water pollution, waste management and the protection of natural areas.”

Bill Toomey, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Health program, said, “The Nature Conservancy is excited to be partnering with Cornell to creatively engage older adults in the conservation actions that they can take individually or as part of a community in the care and stewardship of trees and natural habitats in their own backyards, neighborhoods and community.”

Program organizers conducted an extensive review of the research literature, focus group studies with older adult retirees and a pilot evaluation study. Based on the best available research evidence and practices in the field, including research conducted on aging and environmental issues at Cornell, the project provides 30 hours of training over a six-week period, culminating in a capstone volunteer project.

The training consists of a full-day introductory workshop, four weekly environmental workshops and a capstone stewardship project in the community and provides knowledge from expert speakers on climate change, water quality, soil contaminants, waste management and energy use.

“Through training in leadership and communication skill development, our objective is to improve participants’ effectiveness as environmental volunteers,” Pillemer said. “The educational component of the program also includes hands-on learning experience, such as field trips.”

The conservancy is interested in engaging community members of all ages in the care and stewardship of trees through the Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities program. “We are also looking to support individual and community action through our Habitat Network program to create and maintain local habitats including pollinator, rain and food gardens that can help support wildlife populations and connect people to nature,” Toomey said.

According to Pillemer, the program provides more than environmental improvements to local communities, it also benefits the volunteers themselves.

“It provides potential physical and mental health benefits to participating older adults, including physical activity, exposure to nature and social opportunities, as well as a greater sense of purpose through the chance to improve the world for future generations.”

The Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging promotes translational research on aging, including the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative, evidence-based intervention programs. A focus of the institute, housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, is to promote the social integration of older people in the form of meaningful roles and relationships.

New partnership connects retirees to conservation - Cornell Chronicle

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Visiting fellow Ravhee Bholah joins the center this semester

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news-bholah-inpostRavhee Bholah, an associate professor at the Mauritius Institute of Education, received a Fulbright Scholarship to study policy and community partnerships that promote adolescent sexual health, with a particular focus on school-based programs. He plays leading roles in curriculum development on sexual health, HIV prevention, and education for sustainable development in the Republic of Mauritius. Ravhee works closely with the United Nations Development Programme, UNESCO, the Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development, and the Southern African Development Community Regional Environmental Education Programme on regional programs addressing these issues. He has been a member of various committees at national and regional levels. For instance, he has been the chairperson of Network of African Science Academies Expert Group Committee since 2012 and a member of the South African Development Community Education for Sustainable Development Research Network since 2008. At national level in Mauritius, he is a member of steering committees at the Ministry of Education and Human Resources for the following: (1) Sexuality Education, (2) Health and (3) Climate Change Adaptation. He is a board member of the National Ramsar Committee in Mauritius. He has also done considerable work on climate change education. Ravhee will be working in the BCTR as a visiting fellow through the end of December.

He will be mentored by Jennifer Tiffany during his time at Cornell, and he will be working very closely with the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence.

Ravhee is joined his wife Rouma and their three sons, Divyesh, Sudhakar, and Prabhakar, ages 10, 12, and 15, respectively.

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