Haskins reflects on decades serving older adults

Elizabeth Haskins, former director of the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging, retired from the agency in late November. (Photo via the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging).

As Elizabeth Haskins, Cortland County Area Agency on Aging’s director for the last 11 years, prepares to spend time with her grandchildren after her retirement, she is reminded of the folks she used to serve.

Haskins retired from the County Area Agency on Aging in late November after working with older adults in the county for about 20 years.

“Baby boomers, which is who we were serving during my time as a public servant, are very much about empowerment,” she said. “They’re very much about wanting to own, wanting to take control, which I greatly admire. Why should we tell them how to live their lives when they're perfectly capable of telling us how they want to.”

That, she said, exemplifies life as a public servant.

“Your main goal is to listen to what the people are saying,” Haskins said. “Not just those with the loudest voices, but the trick really is to find those voices that are hard to reach, so that their voices are equally heard. Just as loudly as the voices of those who have the ability to maybe find a greater platform to make their wants and needs known.”

Haskins, originally from DeRuyter in Madison County, said she always tried to direct people’s needs and match them with opportunities in government.

“That’s really one of the keys because your job really is to take those voices, make them one, and then consider the funding that’s coming in and apply it in a way that's going to have the greatest impact on the community that you’ve served,” she said.

Serving a rural community she is so embedded in, Haskins said, adds another wrinkle to the job.

“In a rural community, one thing we pride ourselves on is that we have grit, and we have pride. We pride ourselves in having the ability to do things for ourselves. That is where the empowerment piece comes in,” Haskins noted. “We all work together and, and we want to make our lives better, making sure that we can maintain independence as long as we possibly can.”

Haskins holds a degree in nutrition and began working for the county with the health insurance information counseling assistance program and later the ombudsman program, which is advocacy in nursing homes. 

“I have such an admiration and respect for older adults,” she said. “And if the United States specifically could realize the resources that we have in our older adults, and how much they could teach us wow, wouldn’t we be in a great place.”

There are lots to learn from older adults, she said.

“I truly enjoy sitting down and learning who they are and what they’ve done,” Haskins added.

Much like the way she listens to those she advocates for, Haskins also listens to her own reflections. This year she decided that, although she loves her job, she wanted better work-life balance after two decades of life in public service and knew it was time to step away.

For now, she hopes to spend more time with her family, as well as look for other ways to do what she has always loved to do: advocate for others.

“I'm looking forward to becoming active in my local community, and let’s see where we go from there because it’s a small rural community, but they’re very strong,” she said. “I’m looking to give back and to apply some of what I’ve learned here.”