ST. JOSEPH — Getting older is something to sing about, advocates for seniors declared at the Area Agency on Aging’s 45th anniversary celebration.
“Creative aging is about finding outlets to stretch yourself,” said keynote speaker Jonathan Miller, founder of Sounds Good! Choir, a Chicago-based organization that started a chapter in St. Joseph this year.
“Older adults have a lifetime of experiences as singers and as human beings,” said Miller, who performed with the local ensemble at the gathering at Shadowland Ballroom, under the direction of retired St. Joseph educator Ren Baldwin (the choir will present its holiday concert, “Lights and Miracles,” Dec. 13 and 15 at Ghostlight Theatre in Benton Harbor).
Helping people live fuller lives and to share those gifts has been the mission of the Area Agency on Aging for almost half a century, said Lynn Kellogg, CEO of the Region IV agency that serves Berrien, Van Buren and Cass counties. Kellogg has been with AAA for 43 years, and has been its director since 2000, succeeding Bob Dolsen.
In a video message, Dolsen told the audience that the agency has strived to let older residents know that “you have a friend, that you can count on us and we are on your side. You are part of the community.”
The 70 regular staff and 209 trained volunteers put up some impressive numbers in the last year:
• Their information line for issues on aging and disabilities fielded more than 14,000 calls from 6,500 residents; they made 969 referrals for in-home consultations and provided services to 1,357 households.
• The 25 instructors at the Computer Learning Center at the Campus for Creative Aging conducted 47 classes for 293 students.
• Forty-two trained counselors advised 3,091 clients on issues around Medicaid and Medicare, saving the beneficiaries $5.7 million.
The agency was recently awarded its seventh national Innovation Award, Kellogg announced. But being on the cutting edge is nothing new. Working with partner agencies, the Area Agency on Aging helped start the first hospice program in Berrien County. Its Health Care at Home program also was a first. It helped launch Meals on Wheels “from scratch,” Kellogg said. Last year that service delivered 166,000 meals to 940 clients at their homes, along with another 46,000 at 12 sites around the region.
None of this happens without dedicated staff, volunteers and partners, said Christine Vanlandingham, chief operating officer of Region IV AAA, who joined Kellogg in presenting their annual awards.
The Caregiver of the Year Award went to Connie Rice, a lifelong Benton Harbor resident who has cared at home for her daughter, Crystal, for 35 years. She also was a caregiver for her father and mother until the end of their lives. She opened up her home to a visit from U.S. Rep. Fred Upton to better inform him about the needs of caregivers.
It’s important for caregivers to take care of themselves, as well as loved ones, Rice said. “I make sure Crystal eats right, and I make sure I eat right, so we can be on this earth a long time.”
The Senior Inspiration Award was presented to Ruth Newton, 86, of Cass County, who has been a volunteer for numerous programs and boards for 25 years, as well as a member of the AAA Advisory Council for 16 years. She also was a foster grandparent for 12 years.
The Community Service Award was given to United Way of Southwest Michigan for its ongoing partnership with the Area Agency on Aging. An upcoming activity is their ninth annual “Rake a Difference” Senior Day of Action, with volunteers providing yard work for a record 280 residents. Volunteers will be working in Berrien County on Thursday and in Van Buren and Cass counties on Friday.
The Dorothy Richmond Community Service Award, named for the agency’s longtime office manager, was presented to Janie McGrath, a case management nurse.
State Sen. Kim LaSata presented a proclamation recognizing the Area Agency on Aging’s anniversary and its ongoing impact on the community, signed by her, Reps. Pauline Wendzel and Brad Paquette and Upton.
Kellogg announced that, along with the Mendel Center, the agency will be participating in a pre-lecture discussion when author Mitch Albom speaks to the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan on Dec. 3 about “Every Life Matters.”
When it comes to positive aging, having the right attitude can make all the difference, Kellogg said.
“Can you feel the power of attitude?” she asked. “These people have the right attitude!”
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak