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Older Americans must cross the generational bridge and help improve education, financial well-being and health care availability for people of all ages.

News stories carry "inflammatory reports as if the generations are at war," said Lena Archuleta, member of the American Association of Retired Persons' board of directors. As keynote speaker for the Utah AARP state conference Friday, Archuleta said the stories imply that programs like Medicare and Social Security take money that could be put into programs for children. "It's not true. Social Security revenues are raised and managed separately. And millions of children benefit each year from Social Security (survivor) benefits."The AARP has targeted education, health care reform and economic security for all Americans as the focus of its efforts in ensuing months.

In education, Archuleta said that senior citizens have the "patience, talents and time" to volunteer as mentors, tutors and teaching assistants in the schools. "It's in our own best interest to solve the problems of education," she said, noting there are "more and more poor children and more and more children at risk," including 4 million young adults 16-25 nationwide who never graduated and are not going to school. "These dropouts are probably unemployable."

Health-care reform tops the AARP agenda, according to Archuleta. "No matter how secure our income seems to be, it won't do us any good if we don't live to enjoy it in good health. Health care costs continue to escalate at twice the Consumer Price Index. The picture is even more bleak for children."

Poverty and ill health are linked, she said. Children who are poor - and the number rose by 1.1 million during the 1980s - are more likely to be unhealthy, miss school and have chronic mental and physical illnesses.

AARP has drawn up a universal health plan that would assure basic medical care for all Americans. Three-fourths of AARP members who have examined the plan approve of it, Archuleta said, and the majority want it presented to Congress. The most interesting fact, she said, is "65 percent of those who like the plan are willing to pay higher taxes to pay for it."

Local AARPs are working with state lawmakers to present legislation.

"If we can get every state looking at health care reform in some manner, eventually the federal government will and there will be some solutions," Archuleta said.

"We can be leaders for change in all of these areas," she said. "The answer lies in working together and in interdependence of all generations."