By Sue Moore
“Seniors aren’t looking for a handout,” said Larry Forsyth as he told the Vicksburg Rotary club about his years of helping at South County Community Services (SCCS). He was talking about a special senior services millage on the Aug. 7 primary ballot, seeking .35 mills on Kalamazoo County properties – 35 cents per $1,000 taxable value.
Forsyth told the club about one of his food delivery runs to an older gentleman served by SCCS who had just become eligible for food stamps. “I want you to take the meal to someone who needs it more than I do,” he told Forsyth.
Nevertheless, there are 718 seniors living alone in the south county area, Jim Shaw said. There are 50,000 seniors in Kalamazoo County, with at least 3,000 living in south county. About one-third of these seniors live in poverty. On any given day up to 350 people are on the wait list for home aid and meals delivery in the whole county. “Many people just don’t know where to go for help if they have physical, emotional or financial needs,” Shaw said.
Diane Durian, the senior outreach coordinator for the agency, has been working with seniors over the last two years as part of her outreach. She makes home visits and tries to get those in need into the services that are available. “It takes time to build trust, to navigate the Medicaid process, coordinate with doctors, nurses, pastors and elected officials and governmental agencies,” she said. “There are lots of needy seniors living in one or two rooms of big old farm houses in this area.”
Her part-time work has been funded by two grants from the Vicksburg United Way in partnership with the South County Community Services agency. Should the millage pass, the funds would be managed by the Department of Health and Human Services under county government for use by the county’s Area Agency on Aging. This group works closely with two governing boards, the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners and the Older Adult Services Advisory Council. Each has responsibility to recommend and approve contracts that provide services to older adults and assure compliance with procedural standards for evidence-based programs.
The Area Agency on Aging would also be part of the service network, as would South County Community Services. According to Danna Downing, “their job is to connect seniors and their families to the services they need to remain in their homes longer before moving to more costly living environments. And, she adds, “above all to allow them to age with dignity and community support.”
“I am convinced this is the right thing to do,” Shaw said. “The campaign doesn’t have a lot of money behind it but it does have good people who want to support our seniors. Kalamazoo County is one of only 10 counties in the state of Michigan without a senior millage out of 83 total. It’s time to mark the ballot – it’s on the back of the printed ballot – with a yes vote for seniors.”