Giving back has long been a priority for Jane Mahoney, who is hoping a relatively new statewide program can provide additional tools that enhance both her work with older people and her community.
Mahoney, who resides just south of Menomonie, is an Older American Act consultant for the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, or GWAAR. The Madison-based nonprofit agency supports aging programs delivered by each county. Services include home-delivered meals, caregiver support and Medicare assistance.
“I specifically work with two caregiver programs — the National Family Caregiver Support Program and Wisconsin’s Alzheimer’s Family Caregiver Support Program,” Mahoney said. “My job is to provide training and technical support to 70 counties and 11 tribes as they fulfill the requirements of these programs.
“Support groups, caregiver education, respite care, case management and assistance accessing needed resources are some of the things provided to caregivers through these programs.”
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Recently, Mahoney was selected to participate in the Wisconsin Women's Network Policy Institute. She was among 25 women selected for the program.
The Policy Institute “is an intersectional advocacy training and leadership development program that teaches women how to be advocates in their communities,” according to a news release. Participants in the four-month program learn how to navigate Wisconsin’s legislative process in order to improve the lives of women and girls in Wisconsin, it said.
“The primary goal of the Wisconsin Women’s Policy Institute is to increase the number of women community leaders who are actively involved in the public policy process,” reads the release.
“Representation matters at every level, and it is crucial that women across our great state are equipped to effectively advocate for the issues that matter to us and our families,” said Jenifer Cole, WWN board president. “The Policy Institute teaches the participants everything they need to strategically and effectively advocate at all levels of civic engagement, from their communities and school districts to the state Legislature.”
The Policy Institute consists of four two-day retreats in Madison that began Friday. It’s led by Vicky Selkowe, a public interest attorney and lobbyist who has nearly 20 years of Wisconsin-based policy advocacy experience. Past speakers have included Republican and Democratic legislators, agency heads, Supreme Court justices and community activists.
Mahoney applied for the program on a recommendation from a colleague.
“Advocacy, policy and legislation have never been areas I feel strong in,” she said, “yet I believe they are important in my work in the aging network and also in everyday life. I took a step out of my comfort zone to apply, believing that it would be a great benefit to my life.”
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A South Dakota native, Mahoney moved to Menomonie after graduating from Concordia (Minn.) College. She has been serving the Aging Network in Wisconsin since 2006 and GWAAR since 2009. She enjoys the latter role in part because of the “statewide aspect of the job.”
The Madison-based Wisconsin Women’s Network was founded in 1979. It conducts the Policy Institute, which is in its sixth year, an annual Women’s Equality Day celebration and other programs and events.
On a personal level, Mahoney said she hopes to gain a better understanding of the political system and ways to advocate for positive change in her work with older people.
“I also look forward to meeting women from across the state who work in areas beyond aging,” she said. “Getting to know people from different areas with diverse ideas and experiences is a wonderful opportunity for learning new things.
“I believe my life will be enriched by this experience on many levels.”
Which would only benefit the Menomonie community. The areas of focus for this year’s Policy Institute are women’s health, safety and economic security.
“Mostly, I hope to bring back knowledge and confidence in advocacy work,” Mahoney said. “ I also think that new relationships with fellow participants can open doors to new opportunities for our organization.”
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