ST.?CLAIRSVILLE -- The newly established Senior Services Department, formally known as Senior Services of Belmont County has existed in its current form for just over 30 days. A short existence has not equated to small success as the department has increased efficiency, increased awareness, and increased involvement.
On Nov. 1, the new management team and its dedicated staff continued the services that seniors in Belmont County have traditionally received without any disruption. In addition to a smooth transition the department has embarked on several new initiatives.
The most visible was their current involvement in local Christmas parades. The department participated in four local Christmas parades with an active lighted float and theme of "Winter Wonderland". In addition, the department's Senior Centers have participated in more than ten different holiday events in varying local communities. Each parade included the active float, one of the department's "Meals on Wheels" Trucks, and a van full of Senior Center Members wishing parade-goers holiday cheer. In total, more than 100 senior services consumers participated in the varying holiday festivities. In was the first time in over five years that senior services has participated in the local parades on such a large scale. Barb Ballint, program administrator noted, "It was a group effort to pull off our float design in such a short time frame. Our staff came together with the support of our seniors and the Martins Ferry High School Set Design Class, and we constructed an amazing float. Our goal is to be bigger and better for next year's parade season and for our seniors to continue to enjoy community participation activities".
The department is also in the process of re-launching its monthly newsletter. Seniors from all over the county were encouraged to submit their ideas for the perfect name for the department's newsletter. From those submissions the "top 3" names were selected via a committee of department staff member votes. Those top three were then sent back to the seniors of the county through secret ballot and the newsletter was reborn under a new name. The winning submitter gained bragging rights and a twenty dollar gift card to a local restaurant of their choosing. The new monthly newsletter will be named "The Golden Times". The first edition will be hot-off-the-press for the New Year in January. The department staff have also closely been working with seniors regarding what they find exciting and news worthy for the first edition and have constructed it to be something they want to read.
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday the department hosted its first annual Day of Sharing. More than 100 seniors participated in a day filled of fellowship, bingo, and of course, a pie tasting contest. The department's Center Coordinator's organized and hosted the event and all the participants gathered at the Colerain Senior Center. The meal included a family style Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the "fixins'". Celebrity guest judges included local news reporters, Department management staff, and members of the Board of Commissioners. Twenty-one pies later, a grand champion was crowned in addition to three top finishers in the categories of taste, crust, and presentation. Day of Sharing will become a Senior Services of Belmont County annual event.
In addition to these events, the department is working to improve its efficiency and to enhance current programs and services. The department will soon announce the launch of its RASKALS (Random Acts of Simple Kindness Affecting Local Seniors) initiative. This volunteer based program will encourage local residents, primarily students, to form chapters and participate in supporting their community's senior center and other programs related to the care of local seniors. St. Clairsville High is slated to be the inaugural chapter and the program looks to award volunteer credit to students for application to college, social clubs, and other service driven organizations, while building lasting relationships with the seniors of Belmont County.
The department also recently engaged with Belmont County 911 to enroll all consumers in the CodeRED program. The program has already been put to use during the snow storm, the week of Thanksgiving. This system allows Seniors Services of Belmont County to get urgent messages to its more than 2500 active consumers. Messages range from cancelation of a particular service or program to reminders about upcoming events. David Hacker, Program Coordinator explained "This system has been readily available, and we jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of such a great resource."
He reports that they have had many calls from seniors thanking the department for the call during the recent wintry mix. Seniors will still be able to check their local news and radio stations for similar information, and CodeRED will be used as another form of continued communication.
Senior Services of Belmont County has also redesigned its building layout to provide a more visitor friendly atmosphere and to allow its existing departments to function more efficiently. Hacker explained "We are finding ways to put our resources to maximum use. Our goal is to provide top notch services to our seniors while remaining lean and efficient in size. We continue to grow, and do not anticipate much change in that trend. Research shows that the aging population in our area will continue to grow in terms of size. It will remain our priority to provide our high quality services with no waiting list. We are blessed to have the resources provided to us through our supported local levies and as stewards of those dollars, it is my department's goal to ensure every penny is spent to better the lives and promote the independence of our seniors". The department also is working to access grant dollars by developing a 501(c)3 to support its fundraising functions, becoming a primary facilitator in the county's newly established coordinated transportation department, and work with the local Area Agency on Aging in keeping in touch with state funding initiatives and how our county can best benefit. Hacker stated, "Over the course of the next twelve months, we hope to increase our current service availability, add additional programs and services to support the seniors we serve, and to find a permanent and appropriate home for the great staff that facilitate our services on a daily basis". Hacker further noted, "It is an honor to serve the seniors of Belmont County, and a joy to do so alongside such a dedicated and professional staff. It was a tough decision to leave my last employer, but feel like I have come home and can now give back to my community. We have big things in store for Senior Services, and feel proud of our accomplishments in our first thirty days".