ARTICLE AND PHOTOS
BY DAVID BLANCHETTE
“There is always an activity at Senior Services. Our whole goal is to make sure that seniors are healthy and happy,” said executive director Carol Harms. “Our hope is to keep seniors independent for as long as they possibly can be.”
A recent visit to the Senior Services main facility at Walnut and Mason streets in Springfield found an exercise class in session; friends playing billiards; a roomful of seniors having coffee and lively discussion; seniors making rugs to sell in the facility gift shop; plans being made for an out-of-state excursion; transportation vans bringing seniors to and from the facility; and meals being cooked, prepped and loaded for delivery. And this was just in the space of one hour.
“You watch them and see them being active, and that is the joy,” Harms said. “They’ve worked hard all their lives and they deserve to have the enjoyment. Our team is really good at helping with that, and that makes me proud of the people I work with.”
Senior Services of Central Illinois provides seniors with non-medical services which enhance quality of life and promote independent living. Besides the activities that are coordinated through the main Senior Center facility, Senior Services offers a number of service and support programs throughout the area.
The Daily Bread Senior Nutrition Program in Sangamon and Menard Counties is a midday meal and social program offered at seven congregate sites which include Athens, Chatham, Divernon, Greenview, Petersburg, Tallula and the Springfield Senior Center, with home-delivered meals available for those who are homebound.
Senior Transport provides wheelchair-accessible transportation in Sangamon County on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) offers opportunities for retired or semi-retired persons, age 55 or older, to perform volunteer service in Sangamon, Logan and Menard Counties, and a pilot program started in July has RSVP members helping fellow senior citizens.
“Select RSVP volunteers connect to seniors who have been identified as socially isolated,” Harms said. “We want them to still feel connected to the community. A lot of times seniors, as they get older, lose touch with individuals or maybe they don’t have the same access to services. That’s one of the big things we try to do, give them that connectedness to others.”
Senior Services’ case coordination unit in Sangamon, Logan and Menard Counties provides a variety of services that are designed to assist those 60 and older to remain independent and in their own homes for as long as possible. The Senior Health Assistance Program helps with enrollment activities related to pharmaceutical assistance programs such as Illinois Cares Rx, Medicare Part D and other similar programs. The Comprehensive Care Management Program offers in-home assessments to develop care plans that promote independence and prevent premature institutionalization. The Money Management Program helps seniors with such things as budgeting, balancing a checkbook, paying bills and managing monthly social security benefits.
“Individuals might be living independently but may need extra help, some home care, an aide to help them prepare their meals, or help cleaning the house,” Harms said. “Those are the services that we are connecting seniors to.”
Senior citizens also need a place to turn for more serious problems, and Senior Services provides that assistance as well. The Adult Protective Services Program responds to older persons who are alleged victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation. The Crime Victim/Witness Assistance Program, operated through an Illinois Attorney General’s Office grant, helps individuals 55 and older who are victims or witnesses of a crime. Elder Assistance Services provides one-on-one home or office visits for advocacy in dealing with physical, family or other related losses that occur as part of the aging process. Senior Services even has a food pantry for emergency situations.
“If there is a need for a senior, our team is going to find them the services they need,” said the 49-year-old Harms. “We are improving all the time; we are always looking at different services.”
Millie Robb is a Senior Services volunteer and recipient of several services.
“I can come in here and help serve these people. I love doing that,” Robb said. “Sometimes I get a little bit pushy or take over, but I enjoy everything I get to do here.”
Robb eats her Daily Bread meals at the Senior Center and takes Senior Transport to the Senior Center and to doctors’ appointments.
“It makes my life more fulfilling,” Robb said. “All I can say is, I enjoy being here.”
Lydia Cavins volunteers once a week “wherever they need me.”
“It’s very rewarding. I walk out of here with a smile in my heart that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Cavins said. “When my mother-in-law was in a nursing home they helped me get her to the facility she needed. You can go up front and get help with anything you could possibly need.”
A small army of volunteers is needed to prepare, pack and deliver the Daily Bread meals throughout the area. Springfield Rotary Club South provides two volunteers every Thursday, and club member Lynne Slightom said it’s one of her favorite activities.
“It’s the best feeling to be able to not only give them a meal but connect with people. I think a lot of times that is what this program is really about,” Slightom said. “The meal is just a segue into making sure that people are doing OK, seeing if Senior Services can help them out in other ways, and then just having someone to talk to.”
“Every person that I go and visit with, they will talk your ear off if you let them, tell you all about their grandkids,” Slightom said. “Just having that personal connection is what I think is the most fun about the program.”
Senior Services receives funding from United Way of Central Illinois and other charitable contributions, including from the King’s Daughters Organization. The Case Coordination and Adult Protective Services units’ funding comes from the Illinois Department on Aging and the Department of Human Services. Executive director Harms said they are always searching for ways to keep the Senior Transport program operating, as funding for transportation services is the most difficult to find.
Tessa French is the director of marketing and communications for Senior Services. She derives tremendous satisfaction from being able to help area senior citizens, and her favorite part of the day is leisure trip departure time.
“I like when you are in the lobby and everyone is gathered around waiting for the bus, they are excited and they have smiles on their faces,” French said. “You feel like you’re really making a difference for people who have made a difference for so many other people.
“I think about my parents and grandparents when I see a lot of the seniors in here,” said the 37-year-old French. “I can just imagine my late father being in here playing pool and enjoying himself.”
For more information on Senior Services of Central Illinois, visit www.centralilseniors.org.