Senior services organization sees growing local need


HANCOCK COUNTY — As Linda Hart described it, the goal of Hancock County Senior Services is simple: to provide comprehensive support to residents and help aging seniors maintain their independence as long as possible.

What’s not always so straightforward, she said, is spreading word of its services to residents and seniors from the area.

The nonprofit has grown tremendously in the past 10 years, Hart said, but organization officials hope to continue to gain momentum as more people learn about their programs, which range from respite relief for caregivers to a complete public transit system available to all residents.

Some of the organization’s services are free, but Hart said many programs have a sliding scale for the fees, which are calculated based on a client’s financial means.

“One of the things I hear most often is ‘We didn’t realize you do so much,’” said Hart, who’s served as executive director of the community service organization since 2001.

Many clients are relieved to discover the services offered by the organization, Hart said.

“As people are aging, their needs are gradually increasing, but many are reluctant to ask for help, or they just don’t know where to get it from,” she said.

“We’re always trying to spread the word of our services.”

Cindi Martin, transit operations coordinator at the organization, said she’s seen the number of residents using the transportation services rise over the years.

Since 2007 – the first year she worked for the organization – the number of clients using the transit system has increased from 639 to 760 in 2014. Based off what she’s seen so far this year, she said she anticipates that number to grow again.

The transit system is available to all residents and costs $3 per trip for those younger than 60 years old, unless a rider is traveling to the food pantry, in which case, it’s free. Trips for seniors 60 or older are free for visits to essential destinations, which include places like the doctor’s office, physical therapy or grocery store.

If the number of clients continues to rise, Martin said the organization could qualify for grants to buy another vehicle to expand its services further.

“I’d definitely like to see a more complete transit system, if we can get to that point,” she said.

In addition to providing support to seniors, Hancock County Senior Services also tries to lend help to the caregivers who work tirelessly to support a loved one.

Tamara Whitmer, home services coordinator, said it takes a lot of work to care for an aging senior, and their needs often grow over time.

“Caregivers can sometimes get so caught up giving care that they can sometimes burn out if they’re unable to keep taking care of themselves,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer and other staff members provide a few hours of relief each week to caregivers through the respite and assisted-care program, which is requires a small fee.

“It’s just to allow (caregivers) to take a deep breath and have some time to themselves,” she said. “That ensures that they can continue going on and providing good care,” she said.

As Hart reflects on the organizations growth over the years, she also tries to assess what services to add, she said.

“We take the growing needs of the aging population of Hancock County residents very seriously, and we’re really beginning to do some long-term planning,” she said. “What are the needs going to be 5 years, or even 10 years from now? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”