Allies for Aging
(Written by Kaitlin Zinsli)
Oftentimes, it can be small-scale community efforts that make all the difference in someone’s life. That is the case when it comes to Wallingford Community Senior Center’s meal program. The lunches are not just a convenient lunch stop for people in the older population but a collective effort to address real problems of hunger and isolation in the senior community. The uniquely designed program combats these issues by encouraging active and regular attendance of meals in a friendly, social setting.
The meal program offers lunch three days a week for a suggested donation of $4 (although no one has been turned away if they can’t afford this fee). In addition to providing food and social interaction, the meal program also naturally exposes participants to the wealth of other activities offered at the Center, including exercise classes, game and movie nights, and pancake breakfasts. It provides seniors a safe place to enjoy meals, be an active part of a community, see familiar faces, and make connections.
The successful meal program has been around for several years and has recently gone through some difficult, but ultimately positive, changes. Earlier this year, the federal government cut its yearly funding for the program, leading to concerns that WCSC would have to start turning people away and potentially shut down the program completely. WCSC employees and volunteers refused to go down without a fight.
“We took the opportunity to grow and expand, instead of shrinking back and saying, ‘We can’t do this,’” said WCSC Program and Operations Manager Victoria Dzenis.
Instead of giving up, WCSC is moving to transform the meal program into a self-sustaining program. They altered meals by providing more options and were able to rely on volunteers, the community, and donors to keep the program not only afloat, but more successful than ever. Today there are more lunch attendees than before the funding cuts.
Ashley Larson, WCSC’s Communications and Operations Coordinator, says the changes the meal program has gone through have “definitely been positive, and people enjoy [coming] more.” Continue reading
(Written by Megan Wiebelhaus)
Michael Green looks like a tall, comfortable professor. Maybe a minister—he has so much to say about religion and philosophy. He has a contemplative, idea-sorting mind that enjoys getting to the bottom of big ideas.
“What I do is less interesting than what is going on in my mind.”
This thoughtful man volunteers as a computer mentor at WCSC, teaching Computer Basic and Computer Basic Plus classes of all sizes.
As a computer mentor, Michael helps with member projects, including memoirs: Eleanor DeVito Owen won a local writer’s award for her memoir of her large Italian family (she had 12 siblings) coming to New York in 1921. Michael helped her with Microsoft Word formatting and says she’s had “a very interesting and tough life and a wonderful attitude.”
Michael and his wife, Carol, have managed a modern miracle: a marriage between Macs and PCs. Carol is the Apple mentor at WCSC, proving that bitter brand animosity can’t keep love apart. Even their relationship had a tech-savvy beginning: they met on Match.com and were married two-and-a-half years ago. Continue reading
As the baby boomer generation rapidly approaches and reaches retirement age, so grows the need for transportation services. While many seniors have access to cars, there is also a growing number who don’t have immediate access to personal transportation and instead rely on public and group transportation.
According to their website, King County Metro offers “accessible services” for seniors and those with disabilities, but the future of these services is uncertain due to continuing cuts to Metro.
Hanna Binder is a master’s student leading a focus group on senior transportation issues.
“There’s a perception with older riders that it [Metro], takes forever to use,” she said. “You have no idea when they’re going to pick you up. It’s really problematic for people who might be older, have less energy, or have a mobility impairment if it takes them three hours to get where they’re going.” Continue reading
Less than a year after former Mayor Mike McGinn announced an increase in resources for city-funded senior centers, Wallingford Community Senior Center launched its first social worker program.
From connecting seniors to assistance programs, to fostering communication with families, to leading tailored support groups and instructional workshops, WCSC Social Worker Sarah Frey and her colleagues throughout the Seattle area provide essential support to a rapidly growing elderly population.
But it wasn’t until WCSC received the $20,000 subsidy in 2013 that it was able to provide its members with what some now view as an invaluable service.
“Having a social worker in general has changed our entire outlook. We’ve moved our outreach toward being about relationships, rather than just being reactive,” said Lara Okoloko, the Community Engagement Strategist for WCSC. Continue reading
Diane Morgan reaches across the lunchroom table. Someone needs something—a slightly expressed need for salad dressing—and Diane stops our interview to say, “Sit down, no just sit down; I’ll go get it for you. What kind of dressing do you want? Thousand Island? Okay.”
“Diane’s so nice—she always does those things,” says Linda Demirel Barnes from the Neo Art School, another nonprofit at the Good Shepherd Center.
Linda has drawn up a chair next to us to say hi to Diane. The lunchroom provides a place for Wallingford Community Senior Center members, staff from nonprofits in the Good Shepherd Center, and visitors to enjoy community together. It has the air of a favored neighborhood restaurant and a school lunchroom.
Linda says Diane “brings clippings and visuals and lots of really good feathers” to the art school. The children at the Meridian School (also in the Good Shepherd Center) sometimes mistake Diane for a teacher, she’s so often at the art school. Continue reading
Dr. Yadviga Halsey is a cornerstone of the Wallingford Community Senior Center. An artist, academic, and active participant at WCSC for the past seventeen years, she plays bridge here twice a week, has her art on display, and even brings flowers to brighten the rooms. And once, she taught a class on tripping.
“I’m an expert in tripping,” she said with a laugh.
The class, taught a few years ago, was on the Tai Chi method of walking to avoid tripping and injury. Dr. Halsey has been taking Tai Chi for eleven years and says the key to safer walking is to remember to pick up your feet. It’s not enough for the aging body to learn exercises, she says; inactive seniors lose mobility and need to use their bodies “the same way that kids do. They use everything…” Continue reading
Community events are a great way to celebrate diversity of thought, converse with neighbors, and share a meal. Wallingford Community Senior Center hosted its third annual Harvest Breakfast on Saturday, September 6, and more than 120 people turned out to enjoy the good company and good food.
“Really good food. Everything was really nice,” said Davi Asnani, who attended the breakfast with her daughter Sheela Hodges and granddaughter Claire. They were joined later by Hodges’s husband and other children.
“They all enjoyed [themselves],” said Asnani. “In our family, everyone comes to support each other … They want to be with seniors, too.”
Pancake Breakfasts, Movie Nights, Harvest Breakfasts, and the Wallingford Family Parade and Festival are all events WCSC has done to help bring people together of different generations. While seniors and aging issues are always WCSC’s focus, these community events foster cross-generational interaction to build a more inclusive community, a critical component to fighting ageism and isolation. Continue reading
There are days in our history that we remember like they were yesterday. What we were doing, what we were thinking, and how we were feeling are clear to us decades later. We asked WCSC participants and volunteers to share some of those moments.
December 7, 1941: Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor
“[We had] just moved into our new house in Evanston, Illinois. I was downstairs painting … I had the radio on, and they began reporting that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. We continued as normal for a while, and then [it] came down like a ton of bricks.” —Jan Waude (WCSC participant), born when Herbert Hoover was president
For Sarah Frey, the new social worker at Wallingford Community Senior Center, a busy day is a normal day. Area seniors call or meet with her for a range of needs so varied, it’s hard to believe they fit into one job description. Perhaps someone is starting to lose mobility or has questions about housing options. Maybe they need resources to help make ends meet, are feeling depressed, or are having memory lapses. Or perhaps someone who is caring for an aging parent needs support or respite. Frey provides information or a listening ear—in only eleven hours per week.
Working together with WCSC’s part-time outreach social worker, Lara Okoloko, Frey is excited to create plans to combat senior isolation, develop new programs, and extend the Center’s reach to neighborhoods beyond Wallingford. WCSC also serves as a learning site for a University of Washington master’s of social work student intern every year, which allows the Center to further expand its social service programs and implement new projects. So far, Frey says her favorite part of working at WCSC is “meeting new and returning people every day … from the volunteers, to the staff, to the seniors—everyone’s so happy to be here.” Continue reading
For organizations serving seniors, overcoming the belief that aging is a period of decline requires a different philosophy as well as programs and services that allow seniors to overcome the challenges of aging and have meaningful and engaging opportunities.
Eden Alternative is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to creating quality of life for seniors and their caregivers. The organization wants to combat what it calls the three plagues of aging that they say are at the core of suffering for seniors: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.
“We don’t call it a program; we call it a philosophy,” said Denise Hyde, a spokesperson for Eden Alternative. “We don’t do things that help sustain seniors; we do things to help them to grow and be stronger.” Continue reading