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The 33rd annual meeting of the California Council on Gerontology and Geriatrics (CCGG) proved a time for paying tribute to the past while looking towards the future. Held at USC’s Davidson Conference Center on Friday, April 12, the meeting’s theme was “Aligning Workforce Development with Behavioral Health Care Needs of Older Californians.”


Associate Dean of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and president of CCGG, Maria Henke

“It is so inspiring to see how far we have come, as a field and as an organization,” said Maria Henke, associate dean of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and president of CCGG. “This Meeting is always an opportunity to honor the pioneers of aging while also shining the spotlight on the next generation of leaders.”

With multiple poster and networking breakout sessions, the meeting also featured five panels: “Future Trends in Maximizing the Health & Wellbeing of California’s Diverse Older Adult Population: What The Data Tells Us”; “A National Call to Action: The Institute of Medicine Report on the Mental Health and Substance Use Workforce for Older Adults”; “Making the Most of the IoM Recommendations for California”; “Policy Opportunities In a Changing Health and Behavioral Health Delivery System”; and “Using Evidence-Based Practices with Diverse Community Populations.”

With a distinguished group of speakers who included Laura Trejo of the Los Angeles Department of Aging; Gretchen Alkema of the SCAN Foundation and JoAnn Damron-Rodriguez of the California Geriatric Education Center, the meeting also showcased the work of researchers both at USC and around the state.


Tara Gruenewald, PhD, Phoebe Liebig, PhD, and Patrick Beck

USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology Trojans were especially well represented when it came to the award recipients: Phoebe Liebig won the Lifetime Achievement Award, Tara Gruenewald won the Betty and James E. Birren Emerging Leadership Award and Patrick Beck won the David A. Peterson Student Achievement Award. In fact, Beck used his acceptance speech to salute the legendary 95-year-old gerontologist.

“Jim Birren: thank you for creating CCGG and the field of gerontology as well as serving as the founding dean of the USC Leonard Davis School. Without you, none of us would be here today,” Beck said. “The day that I decided to study gerontology changed my life, and I say now to all the students present: I hope today is equally life-changing for you.”

Honoring both Birrens became a theme of the event, with a special slideshow tribute to the late Betty. Also thanking the first couple of gerontology was Jolene Fassbinder, the previous executive director for CCGG, who was visibly moved to tears when Henke surprised her with an award.

“Thank you everyone. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Jim and Betty Birren,” Fassbinder said. “Betty Birren was executive director of CCGG for 30 years. I am proud to have followed in her footsteps for seven.”


Dean Pinchas Cohen, MD and Jim Birren, PhD

The highlight of the event came with Birren himself took the podium, receiving a standing ovation as the slideshow featured images of his and Betty’s 70-year-long marriage.

“It takes a long time to raise a husband,” he said. “Betty and I have always been so proud of this meeting and so impressed with the vigor and vision of gerontologists. As we say at USC: Fight On!”

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