If you haven’t been to the Senior Center lately, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Dedicated to Dorothy R. and John L. Crawford for their decades of service to our community, the Macon County Senior Services Center at 108 Wayah Street, has all you might expect and more. There are games like bingo and pinochle, adult day care, congregate meals, and music – including karaoke. The most recent karaoke competition included songs in Japanese and Spanish. There are classes in Tai Chi, watercolor collage, knitting, life story writing, and they’re about to add a class for hula hoops. Yes, hula hoops. The center also provides insurance counseling, a caregiver support group, and senior protection programs.
The center conducts surveys so that classes and programs can be tailored to their patrons’ preferences. Senior Services Director Sheila Jenkins has seen the evolution of programming during her nearly 30-year career.
“I like my job, working with seniors, they have given me more than I could ever give them,” Jenkins said.
Bus trips happen once a month. “They fill up fast, so if you’re interested, call us in the beginning of the month,” said Jenkins. They typically take one bus which holds 14 people – “12 if you’re going to be carrying packages when they go shopping,” Jenkins added with a smile. This month they went to the Mall of Georgia, and there have been day trips to the planetarium in Young Harris, which people loved, and an air show in Georgia.
The Senior Center is staffed by 13 Department of Social Services workers and more than 100 volunteers, according to Jenkins.
“We can always use volunteers. They might deliver meals to clients or work in the Adult Day Care center.”
Currently, the Senior Center delivers meal to the homes of 70 clients.
According to Patrick Betancourt, the Department of Social Services Director, this is the 11th year that the Senior Center has been a part of DSS.
“Coming into this, not having had exposure to senior populations prior to this, Sheila was amazing in helping me to understand the different programs. Having worked primarily with children all my life, it’s really amazing. It has been a good working relationship,” said Betancourt.
“The biggest feather in Sheila’s cap, and the staff’s here, is that they spent an incredible amount of time working to receive the Certificate of Excellence for the Senior Center. We will continue to build upon that great success,” said Betancourt.
While the center was already meeting most of the criteria for this award, they spent more than a year to refine their efforts to target specific credentials.
“It did bring more attention to our Outreach Services. We reached a different population with our surveys, and that was good,” added Jenkins.
Another success is the programming for health and community services. Presentations are scheduled to coincide with “awareness” months. In January, several brief talks centered on glaucoma including risk factors and questions to ask your doctor. Betancourt pointed out how the programs at the Senior Center are improving health.
“This is a pretty fun place. I really appreciate hearing this, that when seniors are involved in activities, in socialization with congregate meals, they’re staying healthier. Especially during winter time, when it’s hard to get out to join others, there are connections, involvements, staff and friends here, great ways to try to maintain their healthiness,” Betancourt said.
Another dimension of care concerns questions about health insurance. The Senior Center is a great point of contact for SHIIP, Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program. Karen Wisman coordinates SHIIP with eight volunteers.
“I’m not sure what the average is per day, but we see about 200 people per month,” Wisman said. SHIIP focuses on Medicare and supplemental insurance. Clinics are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays for walk-in clients. On other days, appointments are taken.
“We are not affiliated with any insurance program,” Wisman said. Their independent role is to explain options, to assist people in reading Medicare statements to guarantee receipt of services, and to help to guard against fraud.
Call the state’s SHIIP hotline at 800-433-9354 or call the Senior Center to make an appointment with the local trained specialists.
Seniors who are considered high risk are eligible to participate in one or several senior protection programs. This may be as simple as a check in call, Monday through Friday. If the client cannot be reached, the emergency contact is contacted. If the caller from the Senior Center is unable to reach the emergency contact, a call will be made to the Sheriff’s office to request a wellness check.
Then there is the STARR program: Search, Track, Assist, Respond and Rescue. This database contains additional information that First Responders may use when there is an emergency. Project Lifesaver is a program with the Sheriff’s office, which uses radio transmitter bracelets that help to find people who are prone to wander.
Another program that is housed at the Senior Center is the Community Resource Center (CRC). According to Jenkins, the CRC has “information for everybody, at any age. They help people, from someone who is moving to the county, to finding out what’s available, what’s going on, to [help with utility] disconnect notices, everything, and refer them out to where they need to go. There is also a counseling service program when someone needs a little bit of help to maneuver through the process to get services,” Jenkins said.
The CRC has one full time staff person, Rhonda Blanton, and two part time associates, Eva Thompson and Elizabeth Henry. Thompson started with the Senior Center in 2012 as an intern, and now works there through the Senior Aide Program. Blanton has worked for the county for 16 years, and moved to the Senior Center about a year ago. Among other things, connection to the Home Delivered Meals service starts here.
“We take the application and then it is delivered downstairs. Deborah Ballew reviews it, does a site visit to assess and determine the need. Sometimes the person can’t stand for a long time, has an injury, dementia, or it’s just not safe for the person to cook,” said Blanton.
Blanton’s knowledge of the county’s organizations and agencies helps with supplying resources for clients. Requests may range from a map, to information about where programs are offered, to home health care needs, to low-income housing. When asked about how they make referrals, Blanton plunked down two binders, brimming full of papers. She explained that often times, a relative would call on behalf of a client. Having a lot of options available enables them to help the largest number of people. She’s familiar with the challenges and strives to make the CRC a welcoming place.
“We are an entry point for someone to become a member, to fill out paperwork for all programs, an initial spot to connect to programs here,” said Blanton.
They often get called for home repairs and they want to help people stay in their homes.
“We recently got a call from someone whose bathroom floor was caving in. But people will call for help with ramps, or with installing grab bars.”
The CRC and the Senior Center have built relationships that translate into valuable community resources that are available to all.
Jenkins summed up the work and services offered through the Senior Center.
“We are a one stop shop for people to come in. If we don’t provide a service, we try to find someone who does,” she said.
The Senior Center and the CRC is open five days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To learn more about any of these programs, contact the Macon County Senior Center at (828)349-2058.