Caregivers put the ‘home’ into seniors’ homes

LOCATION: Knoxville, TN
GRANT SUMMARY: To offer basic orientation to newcaregivers; continuing education for current caregivers; and CNA (Certified Nurse Aide) certification for senior-level caregivers.

Located smack-dab in the heart of Knoxville, the 45-year-old organization SCHAS (Senior Citizens Home Assistance Service) exists in large part to help seniors with the day-to-day trials and tribulations of remaining to live in their home.

Getting old ain’t for sissies, as the saying goes.

It’s akin to operating a home delivery service of home services: Amenities providedby SCHAS caregivers include: Companionship, meal preparation, laundry, lighthousekeeping, grocery shopping or errands, transportation, medication reminders, personal care, toileting and incontinence care, 24-hour care, respite care for family, salon services, and on-call services.

Interviewed in a classroom at SCHAS, caseworker Carole Woods says she works three six-hour shifts a week and drives her own car to work. “We have one client that just uses us for transportation,” says the vibrant 71-year-old, who lives in nearby Powell, Tennessee.

“There’s never an average day,” Carole continues. “The first thing you learn: The client is the boss.

“The first thing I try to do, before I begin anything else, is to clean their bathroom.”

And what could be finer … than a clean bathroom.

One of Carole’s favorite clients is a 91-year-old woman who battles with Parkinson’s disease. “She still bathes herself, though,” shesays. “I see her once every other week for two hours. I change her sheets.

“And I make cornbread, ‘cuz she can’t handle the skillet any longer. …”

Summarizes SCHAS CEO Tim Howell: “We draw up a care plan for everyone. We don’t fit anybody in a box.

 “Caregivers are trained to see it, spot it, and know it.”

For these seniors, have van, will travel

GRANT SUMMARY: “We desperately need a new fan for our center toprovide safe and reliable transportation for our seniors.”

Here’s how desperate:

“Coming back from Chattanooga one night, the van caught fire,” recalls Raymond Monday, husband of executive directory Marilyn Monday and the Rhea Richland Senior Neighbor’s Meals on Wheels coordinator.

Truth be told: “We’ve been stranded,” laments Lib Owens, the center’s nutrition coordinator, slowing shaking her head, “just about everyplace we’ve been.”

So what was wrong with the old van?

Raymond Monday pauses, choosing his words. Or, in this case, word:


More than 100,000 miles on the odometer. The new wheels have quickly been put to use. “We took it yesterday to pick up commodities,” says Marilyn Monday. “So many [of our clients] don’t have vehicles.”

Says secretary Cathy Barger, “You come here in the morning, and the walkers will all be lined up.”

The senior center’s staffers crowd around the new passenger van for a photo. We’re just a few blocks away from the Rhea County Courthouse, site of the evolutionary July 1925 William Jennings Bryan-Clarence Darrow judicial tussle commonly known as the internationally infamous Scopes Monkey Trial in the otherwise bucolic rolling hills and valleys of relatively isolated Dayton, Tennessee. 

“You can see,” says board president Linda Bell, as the growing list of signups for an upcoming day trip is noted, “why we’re so grateful for the new van.”

Amid senior hunger comes hope

GRANTEE: MIFA (Metropolitan Inter-faith Association)
GRANT SUMMARY: To utilize technology to improve the meal delivery process and service provision to 3,200 seniors in Shelby County per year.

Hunger continues to be a major issue, from right down the street in Anytown, U.S.A., to the far reaches of the globe.

Same goes for the streets and sidewalks of Memphis, Tennessee, the capital of Shelby County and a gateway port to the Mississippi River. And, perhaps most acutely, its senior population.

Numbers provided by the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, most commonly known by its acronym MIFA, paint a distressing picture: According to the Memphis-based Plough Foundation, nearly 3,700 Shelby County seniors are food-insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

Among the major risk factors of senior hunger are living alone (as 30% of those 65+do in Shelby County), living in the South, living in a city, being African-American, being female, and being economically insecure. Some 74% of MIFA’s participants in its Meals on Wheels program are African-American, and most live alone and fall below the poverty line.

And they’re getting even older. More than a third of surveyed clients were age 80 and over.

As part of its Serving Tennessee’s Seniors grant, the organization purchased a 75-inch video screen and two touch screen monitors. They replace an antiquated whiteboard system that endured 20 years — a generation or more — of daily writing and erasing. All volunteer sign-ins, routing schedules and assessments are now web-based.

The organization provides daily lunches to more than 2,100 nutritionally at-risk seniors, with nearly half of them receiving home-delivered meals.

“This will make the volunteer piece really exciting,” says Sally Jones Heinz, MIFA president and CEO, says of the higher-tech gear. “It also helps attract younger volunteers.

“It’s an expectation of younger generations that we haven’t been meeting.”

In MIFA’s sprawling inner-city complex, the kitchen fires up about 3 each morning and is fully operational for lunch by 8. Before noon, much of the cleanup for the next day has been completed.

From this gleaming center of nutritional hope, the fight against senior hunger continues.

The deck is stacked for a good time at Crockett Senior Center

GRANTEE: Crocket County Office on Aging
GRANT SUMMARY: To increase participating in health and fitness programs by offering transportation and high-quality fitness equipment and programs.

She answers to Miss Gladys. She’s 92 years young.

And she absolutely rules the card games at the Crockett County Senior Citizens Center in Alamo, Tennessee.

“Miss Gladys,” marvels Dorothy Leggett, director of the center, “wins all the contests.”

Remember the Alamo? Not likely this one, unless you’re from here. Although it’s indeed named after San Antonio’s famed Alamo Mission and is the county seat of Crockett County, named after David Crockett, the legendary Tennessee frontiersman and Texas Revolution volunteer who died fighting Mexican troops in the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.

The quaint town of Alamo, about an hour north of Jackson, Tennessee, has a population of about 2,500 people. But the immediate area boasts about 3,000 senior citizens.

While the Crockett County Senior Citizens Center is packed this weekday — we suspect word got out about our impending visit. There were hands of town dignitaries to shake. And still-warm cookies to send us on our way —the organization anticipates an increasing need for services and are willing and ready for more patrons.

The newly purchased elliptical machines are getting a workout, with every unit occupied by a huffing and puffing geriatric. “I’ve been amazed at how many people like to use these,” Dorothy says.

And fitness instructor Sherry Earnheart has a full house for aerobics this day, as Miss Gladys keeps her cards close to her chest in an adjoining room.

Seniors open wide for mobile dental clinic

GRANTEE: South Central Tennessee Development District (SCTDD)
LOCATION: Lawrenceburg, TN
GRANT SUMMARY: To provide a mobile dental clinic and dental services to seniors in each of SCTDD’s 13 counties.

This fine spring morning, the mobile dental unit isparked behind the Lawrence County Senior Citizens Center in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. A line already has formed.

One of the first two patients to arrive is Lawrenceburg’s Velvet “Jean” Cozart, 71, mother of five (all daughters), grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of four. She’s here to have herdentures refitted.

“My first dentures cost $30,” says Jean, who’s a cook at the senior citizens center. “I’ve had dentures since I was 20 years old. I’ve had these for 25 years.”

She has waited patiently to see the dentist, Dr. John Paffrath, who arrives breathlessly and apologetically late after driving to the wrong town in a nearby county. He lives in Stewart, Tennessee in Houston County, overlooking the Tennessee River.

“I retired and sat on my back porch for three days and said, ‘Now what do I do?’ “ the dentist recalls. And now …

“They [the senior patients] all call me ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Darlin.’”

“That’s because we don’t know all your names,” Jean quips, as John and his young dental assistants scurry from one tight workstation to the next in the impressively decked-out and stocked vehicle. Sticker price: $150,000 to $200,000.

“He called her Sweetie, too!” says Jean, referencing a nearby patient, continuing the good-natured banter.

“Now stick your tongue out, please … like your mom always told you not to,” the traveling dentist on wheels gently tells Jean, leaning in for a close look at the time-worn dentures. There will be more seniors to tend to, and more mouths to peer into, for several hours to come.

A small town spruces up its senior center

GRANTEE: Petersburg Senior Center
LOCATION: Petersburg, TN
GRANT SUMMARY: To make the senior center building safer and more comfortable for its seniors.

A state historical marker signifies the attractive one-story structure at 509 Railroad Street in quiet Petersburg, Tennessee.

This once was called Petersburg Colored Elementary School, the marker states, a school built for the town’s African-American children. A two-room structure replaced the original fire-damaged school in 1945. A third room added for students grades 1-3 in 1949. The school closed in 1965 due to desegregation.  

Now the home of the Petersburg Senior Center, the building hosted an influx of construction workers earlier this year. Aging, inoperative building equipment such as defunct heaters and bathroom fixtures were removed. New interior walls, floors, ceilings, doors, lighting, kitchen cabinets, and attic insulation were installed.

“We call this the crafts, exercise room, and whatever else they want to do,” says Barbara Woodward, something of a resident historian, leading us into the refurbished third room. ‘’This is all new flooring.”

“We didn’t want to halfway do it,” says Phil Bolander, president of the center, of the renovation. “We’ve come a long way. We’re really proud of it.”

We arrive while lunch is being served. The lunch crowd varies from seven to 20 diners of the 38-member center. They’re readying for an open house that Saturday.

“We’re trying to attract more participation from the town,” says Bolander of the open house. Petersburg has a population of about 550.

“I should know [the exact number],” Bolander muses. “I was mayor for two years.”

Cool senior is doubly thankful for home repair

GRANTEE: Westminster Home Connection
LOCATION: Nashville, TN
GRANT SUMMARY: To repair 60 homes of seniors in nine counties; infrastructure improvements will increase annual program capacity by 60 homes.

With Westminster Home Connection Keith Branson behind the wheel, we visit the comfortable one-level home of retiree Walter Mitchell, 67, in North Nashville, who had received a new air conditioning and heating system.

“It’s a world of difference,” Walter says one steamy early summer afternoon. “I just had a window unit before. It’s been a blessing.”

It hasn’t been the first time Walter has been helped out by Westminster Home Connection, which makes home repairs for low-income seniors and modifies homes of people who are at-risk for falls or have limited mobility.

His house suffered roof damage a few years ago. A contractor took his insurance money and skipped town after giving a false address. He called the Better Business Bureau and the Department of Consumer Affairs but had no luck finding the contractor.

During this time, rain continued to pour into his house and damage its interior. Westminster Home Connection decided to go ahead and put a new roof on the house. Walter vowed that if he ever saw any money back, he would make a donation to the organization.

Meanwhile Tom Patten, construction manager at Westminster, along with a caseworker at senior-centric nonprofit FiftyForward, helped Walter file a claim against the contractor’s license, which eventually led to the contractor returning the money.

Good to his word, Walter promptly reimbursed the organization for the roof.

As Keith Branson says: “He’s a man of integrity!”

Extra funding means more patients at Matthew Walker

GRANTEE: Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center
LOCATION: Nashville, TN
GRANT SUMMARY: To assist senior patients access for diabetic and hypertension medication and for oral health services.

Open since 1968 in North Nashville and with satellite locations in Clarksville and Smyrna, Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center operates as a private, nonprofit health care agency. With charges and payments on a sliding scale for patients young and old, the agency often has been the difference between wellness and illness.

Dr. Daryl Bird has been seeing patients at Matthew Walker for 30 years, many of them senior citizens, and says welcomes the increased funding from the Serving Tennessee’s Seniors grant.

“We’re busy, and we can use more money to update the equipment and see even more people,” says the dentist, pausing during a patient examination while aided by office manager and registered dental assistant Brendetta O’Neal-Manning, herself a Matthew Walker veteran of 31 years. “The technology has advanced so much through the years.”

And better equipment means more patients, some who may have been wary of regular dental checkups in the past.“It’s so much easier and quicker nowadays,” Daryl says.

Looking forward to lunch with Roscoe 

GRANTEE: FiftyForward
LOCATION: Nashville, TN
GRANT SUMMARY: To enhance and expand direct services for older adults across the agency’s continuum of care in its programs and centers.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that truly matter the most.

a nutritious lunch. And a little dog to keep you company.

Home for Larry Collins is a one-bedroom apartment in a subsidized seniors housing complex in South Nashville. A Nashville native, McGavock High School graduate and U.S. Army veteran, Larry draws disability and walks with a cane. Now age 61 and retired after 21 years in the mattress business, he suffered a stroke five years ago.

He’s from a big family and has four children, 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild of his own, but Larry spends much of his days and nights at home watching television. It’s tuned to a classic “Gunsmoke” episode this summer midday.

We arrive in a van from longtime seniors nonprofit stalwart FiftyForward to deliver Larry his weekday lunch from its Meals on Wheels program, which has been expanded thanks in part to a grant from Serving Tennessee’s Seniors.

Larry’s constant companion, a lively 4-year-old little dog named Roscoe, greets us at the door.“I don’t know what I’d do without Roscoe,” Larry says lovingly. “I wouldn’t trade him for a new car, I tell you that.”