Each year, the month of May is spent celebrating a piece of the population which already has made and continues to make great impacts on society in a variety of ways. Older Americans Month began as Senior Citizens month in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, and was renamed by President Jimmy Carter.
For those fitting that description in Surry and Yadkin counties, the Yadkin Valley Economic Development District Inc. (YVEDDI) is a primary resource for a number of services from congregate meals at nutrition sites, to Meals on Wheels, to programs, exercise and activities coordinated through the senior centers, to transportation.
“We are so excited, YVEDDI is, to be part of helping seniors and we want everyone to know the impact seniors make in our communities,” said Cathy Payne, executive director of YVEDDI, with headquarters on Boonville near the Surry-Yadkin line. “They are a wonderful group of people with lots of assets. Our hope is our communities learn how valuable they are to us.”
The age range to be considered an “older American” varies depending on the program a person is interested in, so those who want to participate are better served by inquiring at local senior centers — Surry County Senior Center at the Jones Family Resource Center in Mount Airy, Yadkin Valley Senior Center in Jonesville, East Bend Senior Center and Yadkin County Senior Center in Yadkinville, with a satellite Pilot Mountain Senior Center in the Armfield Civic Center.
The directors of the YVEDDI senior centers gathered recently to share what their programs offer citizens in the area, and how much money those programs save taxpayers by keeping seniors active and out of nursing home facilities.
“The Surry Senior Center provides over 13,000 services per year to over 1,150 participants,” reported Annalisa Davis, director of the center. “The average cost to serve one senior per year is only $7.14. All of its activities, services and events help keep seniors out of nursing homes, which is a huge expense to taxpayers.”
In Yadkin County, the three centers “have provided 45,617 services with a budget of $227,187 versus a long-term care facility to service 45,617 services would cost approximately $4 billion,” explained YVEDDI staff in a report on the impact to the community. “YVEDDI senior centers in Yadkin provided one service for a year at $4.98.”
According to information from the YVEDDI staff, “the senior centers assisted in providing supplies for socialization activities, supplies for health and wellness, as well as informative and educational information to help the seniors with daily living.”
They also “provide daily exercise programs for the aging community which are recommended by doctors to help lower blood pressure, control diabetes, cholesterol, and help maintain muscle tone. Fresh activity ideas, event planning and exciting day trips will need to occur to allow this generation to age actively and age-in-place,” noted the staff.
Lisa Martin-Money, director of the senior enrichment program for YVEDDI, said it was important that President Barack Obama signed the Older Americans Act reauthorization on April 19, which will mean funding is guaranteed to continue to help keep the programs running. The last time it was signed was in 2006, and it expired in 2011, although funding continued to be allocated.
“That act funds our services. The funding continued, but it didn’t have to. Now it is signed into law,” Martin-Money said.
Davis said all of YVEDDI’s centers are certified centers of excellence by the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services. “That is the highest level certification we can get, and it enables us to get extra funding,” Davis explained.
Some of the services provided through the senior centers include educational programs, volunteer opportunities, health and wellness, advocacy, arts and cultural opportunities, fitness, social events, and trips. Martin-Money said other services are congregate and home-delivered meals, medical and general transportation and free legal services for needs which are non-fee producing, non-criminal, such as wills, power of attorney, deeds and consultations.
“There is not a charge for any of these, but consumer contributions are welcome, but not mandatory,” she said.
“That legal service is a blessing, we get a lot of calls for that,” noted Davis.
The five nutrition sites boast 20 Meals on Wheels routes, with more clients waiting to be served. In the fiscal year 2015, Meals on Wheels provided 46,400 meals for homebound seniors, while another 24,699 meals were served for congregate participants at the senior centers.
“For every dollar invested in Meals on Wheels, we can save up to $50 in Medicaid spending,” Martin-Money reported.
“I like coming to the senior center a lot,” said East Bend participant Lena Bowman. “I come every day because I enjoy the fellowship, I like being with people and it makes my day longer. I will keep coming as long as I’m able because I love it so much.”
Irene Matthews visits the East Bend Senior Center nearly every day, she said. “I hardly miss a day. I walk on the treadmill two miles a day, I enjoy my meal and the programs we have,” said Matthews, who also volunteers by serving meals at the center.
“I really think a lot of the senior building. I thank the Lord for it every day, and for everything that goes on here,” said Yadkin County Senior Center participant Ruth Hayes. She said she enjoys visiting the center for meals, to visit with people and talk. “If it weren’t for that, I would have to sit and watch four walls.”
“I had been a widower for several years and thought I would be one for the rest of my life,” said Ed Camin, participant at the Surry County Senior Center. “I stayed home most of the time and didn’t care about going out or being with people. I had become withdrawn and isolated. However, at the insistence of my sons, I decided to check out the senior center to see what they had to offer.
“I learned they had dances, activities, and even a senior drama group. I was excited about getting involved in the senior drama club. Many years ago I was in the drama club in high school, but I thought my days of acting were long over with. There was a lady in the senior dram club named Norma Jean. She gave me the butterflies every time she walked into the room. I finally got the nerve up to ask her out and to my surprise and amazement, she said yes!”
Camin said, “A few months later I proposed to her on the theater stage during a play rehearsal. My days of being a widower are over!”
Other participants said their interest in the senior center was for activities like yoga and dance classes, playing cards and laughing with friends, joining book clubs, painting, getting advise on Medicare or taxes, and more.
Martin-Money said seniors are able to volunteer in various ways through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, get counseling on their insurance through the SHIIP program, participate in the Yadkin Valley Senior Games, hear updates from the Senior Tar Heel Legislature and more.
Surry County is seeking out two seniors who are interested in serving as delegates for the county on the Senior Tar Heel Legislature. Those interested should reach out to Bob Cleveland at the Piedmont Triad Regional Council.
The delegation for Yadkin County, Carol Roberts and Richard Lasky, will be updating seniors on the legislature and what’s happening in Raleigh on May 25 from 10 a.m. to noon at the East Bend Senior Center, and the event includes refreshments.
In a press release about Older Americans Month, YVEDDI staff said, “Older adults are a growing and increasingly vital part of our country. The contributions they make to our communities are varied, deeply rooted, and include influential roles in the nation’s economy, politics, and the arts. From 69-year-old NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. to 84-year-old actress Rita Moreno to 83-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who took her seat as a Supreme Court Justice at age 60, older adults are blazing trails in all aspects of American life.”
For those wanting to get involved in senior issues, the Surry County Aging Planning Committee, a division of the Piedmont Triad Regional Council Area Agency on Aging, is actively recruiting new members. This committee assists the elderly, disabled and their caregivers in Surry County by supporting identified needs and issues, and by providing advocacy and solutions. This committee also reviews federal and state allocations of Home and Community Care Block Grant funds. The committee meets every other month for about two hours in the early afternoon at 1218 State St., Mount Airy. For more information, call Donna Collins at 336-320-3123.
For those wanting to get involved in the senior center activities, they can be reached at Surry County center, 336-786-6755 ext. 222; Yadkin Valley center, 336-526-1087; Yadkin County center, 336-679-3596; East Bend center, 336-699-5100; and Pilot Mountain center, 336-368-2012 ext. 203.
YVEDDI receives funding from the Yadkin Valley United Fund, Yadkin County United Fund, United Fund of Surry, the state, Yadkin and Surry counties, consumer contributions, private donations, fundraisers, and business and church sponsorships.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.