ALBANY NEWS HERALD - JENNIFER PARKS -
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— The most visible part of the SOWEGA Council on Aging’s presence in Albany is the 45,000-square-foot Kay H. Hind Senior Life Enrichment Center that took years to become a reality. The core of the mission is what goes on inside the walls to give senior citizens a reason to get out of bed in the morning and continue moving.
On any given day, there is something going on from which senior citizens — and even younger folks — could benefit from. Powerful Tools for Caregivers, a six-week course meant to increase confidence for caregivers, is among those along with the monthly caregiver support group meetings. Matter of Balance, meant to help those most vulnerable to better prevent falls, is a four-week class held twice a week.
There’s also an art class that meets on Mondays, a line dancing class that meets twice a week, a chair fitness class meeting twice weekly, a Friday drumming class, an eight-week computer class that meets twice a week and the AARP Driver Safety Program that has sessions coming up in June and September.
Currently, the first part of a Tai Chi course for arthritis is taking place through June 25. There is a fitness room built for senior’s needs, and there are places for people to just come to eat a meal or socialize by playing cards.
SOWEGA also maintains evidence-based programs, such as those relating to chronic disease management.
“(Evidence-based programs) are classes held according to the standards given, and we can expect results from them,” said SOWEGA Executive Director Kay Hind. “We have staff willing to go out in the community and speak to groups and inform them of what we have to offer. Most (of the classes and programs) are new, because now we have the space to do it and volunteers to help carry them out.”
As the funds allow, the council is expanding on those opportunities.
“Older Americans Month is May, and the theme is ‘Get Into the Act’,” said Hind. “It’s a national (campaign) promoting being active and being involved. We believe in that all the time around here.
“We are fortunate to have a building that will accommodate programs, more entertainment and more education … We continue to add new programs and activities as we get requests. We encourage older people to suggest programs we may not have thought of. We are not limited in what we can do.”
Part of gaining input from the community was the creation of the council’s advisory board, which consists primarily of people in its services, or are eligible to receive them, giving advice to SOWEGA’s leadership.
Among those on that board is Marilyn Malphus McKinney. About to turn 91, she has been active with the Council on Aging since she got involved with its tax program in 1990 — which was followed by a career as an accounting instructor at what is now Darton State College.
After about a decade, eyesight problems forced her to step down from the program.
“It is a wonderful program. It helps so many folks each year,” she said. “The RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), transportation, everything we do is for seniors.”
McKinney was involved in recruiting someone to take her place when she got connected with the advisory board.
“I come to hear about the things being done, and I want to be a part of it,” she said. “It takes a lot of people involved to make it work … There are a lot of good things happening. I’m so proud of the senior center. It is the most wonderful thing that could have happened. I’m so proud of it.”
The center’s very existence reflects a strong community interest, she said, toward giving back to a population who has already given a lot of themselves.
“They have given a lot to us, so it is important for us to see they have an easy time,” McKinney said. “(The building) is phenomenal.”
It’s particularly important for those at risk of fading away slowly into the background who need to stay visible and active.
“So many seniors become isolated and don’t have interaction,” McKinney said. “With Meals on Wheels, the visit is just as important as the food. They can come here and have plenty of people to talk to.
“I think the future is bright (for the Council on Aging). I can’t think of a reason why we can’t (go farther).”
On June 4, the 22nd annual Shades of Gold Senior Art Show will be taking place at the Albany Museum of Art from noon-2 p.m. to give some of the area’s seniors a chance to showcase their work.
That is among a few programs allowing the council to be visible outside the West Society Avenue center.
“That is one of our most popular activities,” Hind said.
After that, the council’s 10th annual Comedy Night, to feature Mark Lowry and Stan Whitmire, will be taking place at 7 p.m. on Aug. 6 at the Albany Municipal Auditorium to raise funds for the Meals on Wheels program.
“That is our major fundraiser each year,” Hind said.
There are volunteer opportunities, including the Knights of Columbus Sewing Group, Meals on Wheels and the RSVP ramp crew. The Albany Golden K Kiwanis Club recently volunteered their time by setting up a veterans memorial outside the center consisting of a red maple tree and a granite marker, as did the Albany Woman’s Club by helping to set up a flower bed on the grounds.
In addition, some of the clients have been working on a community garden through the council’s wellness programs and grants.
“We raised the beds and planted vegetables,” Hind. “Participants are at the center where they serve lunch, they pull weeds and share vegetables. It is scientifically done and organic. It is exciting to see the garden grow.”
Outside of Albany, there are centers in Arlington, Bainbridge, Blakely, Cairo, Colquitt, Dawson, Donalsonville, Leesburg, Moultrie, Newton, Pelham, Sylvester and Thomasville.
“We have senior centers in every county (served by SOWEGA),” Hind said. “They carry out some of the programs at their facilities, and are otherwise invited to come here (to the Albany center).”
Among the core programs have included Meals on Wheels, as well as homemaker services and in-home care services for those eligible for nursing home care.
Much of what is offered at the center is done at little to no cost to the clients. The help of private donations, state and federal funding, grants and rental fees from outside entities wanting to utilize parts of the building — such as for statewide conferences — have allowed the center to be able to do what it does while remaining financially stable.
“We are doing well,” Hind said. “We are having more people come in from the community that we have not had the opportunity to serve before … People in the community recognize this as a resource. We rent it to meet expenses.
“We start a new (fiscal) year on July 1, and have already established our budget. We have spent carefully, but are able to continue with grants we are able to get, and with federal and state funding, we are able to offer most of the programs at the same level (as we have been).
“We’ve had to make some cuts due to funding, but we try to keep that to a minimum.”
The council’s newsletter goes out every other month to keep the community informed of its activities at the center, which was completed in late 2013 following a $10 million investment in time and resources — and has a strong following even outside Southwest Georgia.
“I get nothing but compliments, not only here but statewide,” Hind said. “We’ve received a lot of recognition, and (are) having more people come from other areas.
“So far, everyone I’ve talked to has been positive about it. It’s really been an asset … People come (from out of town) and stay in hotels (and spend money in the community). It’s not just us that benefits.”
The 2014 annual report for the council included statistics from the Georgia Division of Aging Services showing there are 67,369 elderly people living in Southwest Georgia, with 16,255 being from Dougherty County. Through the senior life enrichment centers in the SOWEGA coverage area, there were 823 people and 123,547 congregate meals served in Fiscal Year 2014.
In Fiscal Year 2014, there were 20,335 day care hours and 5,000 in-home respite hours provided through the adult day care and in-home respite care programs. The Community Care Services program, an in-home nursing care alternative, provided a total of $9.9 million in services, with 812 people in Southwest Georgia being served through the program in FY 2014. More than 3,600 beds were served by the ombudsman program, and 6,497 were served through the Georgia Cares prescription program, the annual report said.
The RSVP program, consisting of about 500 volunteers giving more than 50,000 hours annually, built 80 ramps and averaged 100 teddy bears a week made to be distributed at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. There were 817 clients served by Meals on Wheels and 133 served through the homemaker services program. There were also 66 in the caregiver support group, the annual report said.
For more information on SOWEGA, call (229) 432-1124 or (800) 282-6612.