Inspiring Stories

Becoming a Local Advocate with Barbara Witte-Howel

By the time we talked at 12:30pm one Monday, Barbara Witte-Howel had already swum laps, visited the doctor, donated some books and picked up some scallions at her local community garden.  

Now, it was time to talk about advocacy and her fight for older adults to be included in the fight for digital access as a member of the City/County Joint Commission on Elderly Affairs in San Antonio. We jumped right in: 

How did you get Senior Planet from AARP involved in your work with the City/County Joint Commission on Elderly Affairs in San Antonio?

I’ve been on the commission for a few years now. I knew DeAnne Cuellar (Senior Planet State Director, Texas) from when she started doing Senior Planet technology trainings at our local senior centers. I thought that was great, because nobody had focused on that here!

“Senior Planet is the only reason this commission is working”

When the pandemic hit, the commission was shut down and we stopped meeting in person. I said “we have meet online.” Here’s the thing: I’m decisive and I like to get things done, like Ana Wintour.

I called DeAnne and Senior Planet gave every person on the commission the fastest help. Senior Planet is the only reason this commission is working.

What issue have you been focusing on addressing with the commission?

Ok, here are the stats: 1 in every 5 San Antonians is age 60 or over. 42% of older adults lack digital access. And here we are taking polls and gathering community input at virtual meetings for budget, for police reform, for political priorities and Seniors don’t have access to that space. We are losing valuable input into how the city should be run.

You don’t have the right data if that much of the population isn’t involved, especially in these days of transparency and inclusion. If you don’t have digital access, it’s very hard to be represented by your elected officials. To me it is a critical issue.

So, we passed a resolution about digital access and that passed through the city system and the county system. What we’re doing now is working our way through all these systems to include seniors in the digital access fight. It’s not just about giving people devices either. It doesn’t matter if you give someone a rock star computer system if they don’t know how to use it. That’s where Senior planet comes in.

 “You lose a lot, but when you win you think ‘all right, it is possible.’” 

How did you get so involved in advocacy?

I come from two families who have always been involved…my parents, my uncles and aunts on both sides. One of my aunts was even one of the founders of the Women’s Political Caucus! That’s just what we do, we’re involved in civic work and the betterment of the world. When something doesn’t seem right, you do something about it.   

What is the ideal world you’re fighting for? 

Representation. That’s where the digital access comes in to play. Equitable representation of seniors in every aspect of San Antonio decision making. 

And not just by people who advocate for seniors, but seniors themselves. I believe we’re getting there. Senior Planet arrived at the perfect time to get us there. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an advocate for their community but doesn’t know how to get started? 

Here’s the first thing…people think that they can’t make a difference. That is not true at all! The next component is how. I’ve found the best way is to just get involved. You lose a lot, but when you win you think “all right, it is possible.”  

What does aging with attitude mean to you? 

Most people know what my attitude is when we talk about the issues. With age, I’ve gotten better at listening to all the information before making my grand statement. 


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