Local agencies will rejuvenate senior services
NASHUA – As manager of ServiceLink Resource Center’s Hillsborough County office, Amanda Jillson is always on the lookout for so-called “invisible” seniors and people with disabilities – those who need services but don’t know, or don’t want to, ask for help.
Help could be in the form of personal care, household chores, transportation, food or medication preparation, counseling or just plain companionship. But like one particular 91-year-old woman Jillson recently met, denying “charity” or “welfare,” as they call it, is one of the taboos of the Greatest Generation.
“She needed help, but she was so proud,” Jillson said of the elderly woman. “She told me, ‘Oh no, I don’t need the welfare . . . give it to someone who really needs it.’ ”
Such cases are the very reason that representatives of several senior advocacy and nonprofit groups met one morning last week to kick off a local version of Seniors Count, a statewide initiative aimed at identifying and assisting seniors who need support to, as the mission statement reads, “maintain their independence and to safely live out their lives with dignity and in the manner they choose.”
Beth Todgham, area coordinator for Southern New Hampshire Services, is the facilitator for the local Seniors Count initiative.
“We’re here to answer the question of what will make this work,” Todgham told the gathering of roughly 50 people. “The initial response has been overwhelming . . . I’m grateful so many have come aboard.”
According to SNHS figures, roughly one in eight people is considered an “older American.” Of those, about 60 percent are women, and roughly half of women age 75 or older live alone.
“Seniors are not one age,” said Arlene Kershaw, director of senior services for Easter Seals New Hampshire and a member of the Seniors Count collaboration council. “More and more seniors are active these days, but there’s also a growing number of those who are unable to get out, who could easily be overlooked if not for programs like this.”
In addition to identifying so-called at-risk seniors, Seniors Count also aims to fill gaps in the services they receive, Kershaw said.
“Right now there’s sometimes a disconnect in services . . . a senior may be getting Meals on Wheels, for instance, but has nobody to change a light bulb for them. That’s where Seniors Count comes in,” she added.
Over the next several months, a Seniors Count taskforce will be assessing current community services and what additional programs are needed to better serve seniors.
Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, no stranger to the world of nonprofits and the funding process by virtue of her former association with SNHS and time as a state legislator, told the group of the effect that increasing economic difficulties are having on the state’s social agencies.
“The competing needs are huge,” said Lozeau, who’s also a graduate of SNHS’ first Head Start program in the early 1960s.
“But we need to remember that the one thing we have that can’t be cut, that nobody can take away from us, is human capital. The message in this room today is that it’s not so much about funding, it’s about people,” she added.