This May, we are celebrating Older Americans Month and on April 28, Senior Solutions celebrated our 50th anniversary. Senior Solutions exists because of the federal Older Americans Act. The Older Americans Act was the first federal level initiative aimed at providing comprehensive services for older adults. It created the National Aging Network comprising the Administration on Aging on the federal level, State Units on Aging at the state level, and Area Agencies on Aging at the local level. The Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 14, 1965.
For the past 50 years, the various iterations of Senior Solutions has been providing comprehensive services to older Vermonters. Here is an example of that service, that I shared at our anniversary event.
Thom Simmons, our Nutrition and Wellness Director related this to me last month after our last big snowstorm. Thom spends time every other week in a donated office space in Wilmington.
Halfway through the day at the Wilmington office (a former firehouse), a man came through the door asking to use the restroom. He was one of a team of linemen working on the power lines in the area.
Of course, Tom said “yes.”
Afterwards, the man said to Thom … What is this place? I thought I was walking into a firehouse …”
Thom explained what Senior Solutions is and what we do.
The man’s eyes widened, and he asked Tom: “Do you have time to talk to someone? I’ve got a guy I’m working with who has been worried about his dad all morning …”
“Sure,” said Tom, “that’s what I’m here for.”
Two minutes later the lineman walked in with his co-worker. The co-worker was from northern Vermont but was working with this particular crew. He was staying with his father, who lives alone in Readsboro, not far from where the linemen were making repairs.
“Hi….ah, look, I don’t even know where to start,” the man said. “I’m staying with my father … he lives in a trailer … he has no food … he can’t afford heat … He’s barely surviving on his Social Security check. “I had no idea things were so bad,” the man said. “My father gets no help from anyone …”
About 45 minutes later, Thom and the man had applications for 3SquaresVT food stamps, LIHEAP fuel assistance, Green Mountain Power rate reductions, and V-Pharm pharmacy benefits mostly completed. The man took the paperwork with him to fill in the remaining details with his dad. His father also has the number for the Moover transit agency to arrange to bring him to the Jacksonville congregate meal site twice a week.
So now, he’s qualified for the programs his son learned about from Thom.
Since that day, the quality of this man’s life has greatly improved, and the man’s son no longer has to worry about his father’s day-to-day survival.
To put this story in perspective here are a few statistics about older Vermonters in our area. About a quarter of the residents of Windham County are age 65 or older. That’s almost 11,000 people. The poverty rate in Windham County is more than 11%, which translates into more than 1,200 older Vermonters in Windham County living at or below the federal poverty level — which for one person means getting by on $1,215 a month, for a two-person household, it’s $1,643 a month.
So, this year, more than 1,200 people in Windham County are living in situations that could be just like that of this lineman’s father.
Supporting older Vermonters to live as independently as possible in their communities is the basic premise of the Older Americans Act. And it’s this purpose which has kept Thom Simmons and all the Senior Solutions’ staff reaching out to individuals and our community partners for the past 50 years. We plan to continue to do just that for another 50!