By Director Drew Johnson
South County Community Services has hired Brian Penny as a new Senior Outreach Coordinator! This position is responsible for running senior programs at SCCS, helping seniors access important services like our food pantry, and working with seniors to ensure that they are connected to all the services that they are entitled to, like Medicare, food stamps, and VA Benefits. Brian has 20 years of experience working with older adults in the community. He came to South County from Milestone Senior Services in Kalamazoo, where he was the supervisor of the Home Repair program and Volunteer Coordinator for the Tuesday Toolmen volunteer program. During that time, Brian was involved with thousands of accessible ramp builds as well as other various home and safety modifications within the community.
So Brian, what made you decide to come work for South County Community Services?
The biggest reason is that I am a resident of South County — I live in Scotts — and I am very excited to be working and doing something positive in my own community. I felt I had helped grow my previous program as much as I could and that both the program and I could use a fresh start. I’m also excited to work in a small, dynamic nonprofit where I can have a larger impact.
What are you most excited about working on?
My passion has always been for helping older adults remain safely living in their own homes while maintaining their independence with dignity. Many older adults experience concerns about falling and restrict their activities. In fact, nearly 90% of older adults want to age in place and stay independent. However: 85% of seniors have done nothing to prepare their homes for aging. Being a certified Home Safety Assessor I am really looking forward to developing South County Community Services’ Safe At Home Program. This was a pilot program started by Danna Downing in partnership with the Vicksburg Rotary, four years prior. However, the newly added program was severely affected by COVID for the past three years.
The revised program would allow for a free, no-obligation home safety evaluation to residents living in South County that are 55 years or older. The focus is on fall prevention and emergency preparedness. It begins with the survey to determine which devices and strategies are most needed to keep the individuals safe at home. The recommendations could lead to free installations of needed equipment, such as grab bars, railings, detectors, steps, and ramps. We will also work with family members to assist in the process and help with outside resources capable of provided more extensive modifications.
How can the community help our efforts to improve the lives of seniors in our service area?
There are a lot of ways to get involved with SCCS—volunteering, donating, liking us on Facebook, letting people know about our services. Sometimes telling someone about one program can make all the difference! [Interviewer’s note: one big current need is food donations! The extra food stamps that started during COVID-19 are being cut back to pre-pandemic levels, so we are expecting (and already starting to see) a large increase in people needing food assistance. This is coming at a time when we have more limited access to food than usual due to issues with our food bank supply line.]
If a local senior needs help with planning to age in place, how can you and SCCS help them?
They can call me at 649-2901 and I will do a home safety evaluation; I’ll walk around the inside and outside of their house and note any safety concerns. After that, I’ll meet with them (and their family, if possible) to go over the findings and suggestions to improve safety. Many issues we can address ourselves — SCCS can install grab rails, modify toilet seats, and even in some cases install ramps. I will also help connect them to other services — whether provided by SCCS or not — to help them remain in their home.
What is something that we should know about you?
I am an ordained minister, a huge Star Wars collector, and a professional magician! Art has had a big influence on my life; I followed it to special effects and then to magic. I started performing over 30 years ago and love to do comedy magic for all ages. I have been married to my beautiful wife for 34 years, we have three grown kids and four grandkids, and I enjoy spending time with them whenever I can.
By Director Drew Johnson