As senior population grows, so does the need for services


The East Side is served by two senior service nonprofits, North East Seniors for Better Living and East Side Elders. Both support seniors and their caregivers by providing resources like social events, transportation, wellness care, caregiver coaching, handyman services and other resources, with nearly all of it depending on volunteers. (Thomas Bonneville/Lillie Suburban Newspapers)

East Side nonprofits seek volunteers to help ageing neighbors

 

As the Baby Boomers continue to age, the need for senior services is growing. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Minnesota’s population of those 60 years and older will grow by 50% between 2012 and 2030. 

On the East Side, senior service nonprofits like East Side Elders and North East Seniors for Better Living are already feeling that growth as they struggle to keep up with helping seniors and their caregivers. 

Both nonprofits are a part of the Living at Home Network, a collection of nonprofits dedicated to senior services across the state. 

East Side Elders is based out of First Lutheran Church’s City View Center at 463 Maria Ave. in Dayton’s Bluff. North East Seniors for Better Living is based out of Beloved Church at 961 Sherwood Ave. E.

 

Volunteers needed

For East Side Elders, its growth in clientele has been attributed not only to a rise in the senior population but to the nonprofit’s expansion of its coverage area. 

In 2015 it expanded to cover the Payne-Phalen neighborhood after a senior nonprofit there closed its doors. Then in 2017, after changing its name from Dayton’s Bluff Seniors to East Side Elders, it expanded to cover the Conway and Battle Creek neighborhoods.

Today, the organization serves anywhere from 600 to 650 clients each year, according to its executive director, Janet Golden, with its needs varying from month to month. 

“The need is huge,” said Golden. “But there’s only a small number we can serve.”

The top challenge for her organization, which is made up of three full-time paid staffers, is finding enough volunteers to help with any number of tasks, such as driving people to appointments or errands, or helping to run social events like the monthly Elder Cafe lunch social. 

“We’re respectful of volunteers’ time,” Golden said, which is why East Side Elders seeks more volunteers to help spread the work around. 

North East Seniors for Better Living deals with the same volunteer shortage, said Rosemary Wallace, executive director of the nonprofit. 

With more of a focus on helping seniors stay in their homes as long as possible, much of Wallace’s organization’s volunteer needs revolve around home maintenance. 

She said North East Seniors is always looking for volunteers to help with yard work and small handyman projects, in addition to providing transportation or helping run events. School groups or youth groups will often help with house work, but Wallace said she’s always looking for consistent volunteers. 

For those who may not have a lot of time to volunteer but want to help, she said one simple thing anyone can do is get to know their neighbors, especially elderly folks, and take the time to check on them regularly. 

“Offer to mow their lawn, say ‘Hi’ — it’s neighbors helping neighbors,” said Wallace.

 

Funding

With a budget of $220,000 per year, Golden said funding for East Side Elders is also always a worry. The organization’s staff not only organizes volunteers, events and supplies, but also carries out small but important tasks like writing up calendars of appointments for clients.

The organization also offers a grocery bag program to help supplement seniors’ kitchen cabinets. Golden said right now there are some nine seniors who receive items once a month to help them cut down on their grocery bills to save money for other expenses. 

The program depends on donations, both monetary and in the form of food, to help the bag program and others. Often, local businesses like Yarusso-Bros. Italian Restaurant will donate meals to the Elder Cafe program.

Golden said that as her organization looks toward the future, an additional challenge she worries about is the impact of the affordable housing crisis on seniors. 

“I’m very fearful,” she said. “We have some clients that are just a heartbeat away from being homeless.” 

As apartment buildings are renovated and neighborhoods are gentrified, Golden said, many seniors are finding themselves priced out as rents rise. She said if East Side Elders can help seniors by giving them $100 worth of groceries, that’s $100 they can spend on medications or rent. 

North East Seniors is in a similar funding crunch, said Wallace.

“Funding for ageing [services] has stayed the same or decreased,” she said, pointing out that the “burden falls to the [senior’s] family.”

She sees this manifesting in multigenerational homes where whole families are taking care of their elderly relatives. While historically and culturally it’s a common practice and can be beneficial for all generations, Wallace said she worries about the financial and emotional strain it can put on families.

North East Seniors tries to connect caregivers with resources, but it can be hard to find such resources, or find enough. It also holds events, like its Memory Cafe for clients with memory-loss challenges and their caregivers, so clients can socialize in a dementia-friendly space and caregivers can connect with people in similar caretaker positions. 

“It can be a difficult thing,” Golden said of the experience of those who serve as caregivers for loved ones. 

Caring for caregivers is another passion of Golden’s, and another service provided by East Side Elders. She said data and personal experience show that the majority of caretakers for seniors happen to be women who are often taking time off from their jobs to help.

As these women take time off, many aren’t paid, reducing their wages. Not only does it create a financial burden now, but those reduced wages come back to be a problem when caretakers are seniors themselves and face reduced Social Security payments, which are based on the average of total lifetime income. 

“There’s going to be more impoverished women in the future,” Golden said, something that will continue to feed into a cycle of impoverished seniors and caregivers. 

 

Advocating

Beyond providing services, both organizations and their staffs find themselves advocating for seniors and their caregivers.

Golden said advocating for paid family leave for caregivers is a passion of hers and she will often speak with local businesses about the subject.

Wallace said she often talks to businesses about what they can do to be dementia-friendly and how to make experiences more positive for those dealing with memory loss.

“When people begin to notice their memory loss, they’re embarrassed and isolate themselves,” she said, adding it’s important to have dementia-friendly spaces to prevent that isolation. 

For those who would like to volunteer or seek help, North East Seniors for Better Living can be reached at 651-808-1901. 

East Side Elders can be reached at 651-683-2326.

“I just really feel our elders should be revered,” Wallace said, pointing out that caring for elders isn’t a burden, but a chance to learn and collect wisdom before it’s gone. 

Golden agrees.

“Being old doesn’t mean you’re worthless,” she said. “Age is just a number.”

 

–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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