Daymon Gardner  Caption: AARP Facilitator Jennifer Pope at a park in Arlington, TX

AARP volunteer Jennifer Pope facilitates ‘Decide. Create. Share.’ sessions that provide women a framework to think about their futures. Photo by Daymon Gardner

By Tracy Sutton Schorn • Women balance so many responsibilities—child-rearing, caregiving for aging parents, relationships, careers—that often something falls through the cracks, said Austin financial planner Emily O’Connell.

Unfortunately, she said, typically what they shortchange “is their own futures.”

She said many women in her mother’s generation didn’t plan for what would happen in their retirement years if they outlived their husbands.

Aimed at pre-retirees

“We’ve progressed, but my generation is often just too overwhelmed to focus,” said O’Connell, 52, who sees this failure to think long-term among many of her female clients.

AARP wants to help women in their 40s, 50s and 60s change that. A program called “Decide. Create. Share.” provides a framework for women to think about their futures.

It brings women together in small gatherings and prompts them to talk about their own situations and to create a plan that addresses how to reduce health risks, pay for possible long-term care needs and decide whether their homes will meet their needs as they age. Finally, the plan encourages women to share their health care wishes with family members to ensure that those preferences are followed.

Because women tend to live longer than men, they face different challenges when it comes to their long-term needs.

For instance, women who work outside the home are more likely than men to interrupt their careers to take care of children or their own parents.

Women also are more likely to work in part-time jobs that don’t qualify for a retirement plan, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Additional factors such as divorce or widowhood can leave women with fewer resources over their lifetimes.

For Jennifer Pope, 56, of Arlington, attending a Decide. Create. Share. session alerted her to these issues, prompting her to become a volunteer facilitator for the program in the Fort Worth area.

“I went with a girlfriend to one of the meetings,” Pope said, “and we both got out and looked at each other and said, ‘We gotta do this!’ ”

It’s exactly that woman-to-woman level of comfort that organizers hope will put women at ease when they discuss subjects that can be anxiety-provoking.

“It puts a spark under a lot of women. Many hadn’t considered these things,” said Pope, who gives talks at churches, community centers and sorority meetings.

“You think, ‘I don’t need to know this now.’ But you’re never too young to think about your future.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that women who are 65 today can expect to live another 20 years. Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute projects that about 79 percent of 65-year-old women will need some long-term care during their lifetimes.

Tool kits available

Decide. Create. Share. presentations generally take about an hour for each of the four topics: home and community, health, finances, and legal issues.

A tool kit for each of the program’s four segments can be downloaded at aarp.org/decide.

The program, which has trained 24 volunteer facilitators so far in Texas, is looking for more women to join, both as leaders and as participants who could arrange an event for their women’s group.

Public speaking experience isn’t required to volunteer, “just the ability to step outside yourself and share with others,” Pope said.

Volunteers receive one day of training and commit to participating in one meeting or conference call a month. The volunteer facilitators are asked to take part in at least three presentations a year.

To arrange for a presentation, call 866-227-7443 toll-free. To volunteer, visit aarp.org/volunteer.

Tracy Sutton Schorn is a writer living in Lockhart, Texas