Our Senior Nutrition Program addresses hunger and food insecurity among one of our community’s most vulnerable populations – low income seniors age 60 and older. Nearly all our clients live at or below the poverty level, with most unable to meet their basic needs – food, housing, transportation and health care, without assistance. While all of these needs are critical, food is the most immediate concern and is what initially brings them to Senior Community Centers. Imagine having to choose between paying for prescription medication or buying food for dinner. These are the hard choices our elderly clients face every day.
Access to a regular source of nutritious food is critical as we age, especially for those suffering from health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. We make sure all seniors have access to at least one healthy and complete meal every day. For most, these meals are often their only source of nutrition and help to reduce or alleviate the anxiety and health concerns hunger can cause. We offer meals seven days a week at our downtown Wellness Center and five days a week at 7 congregate meal sites and 2 housing facilities throughout San Diego County. We also provide daily meals to over 500 homebound seniors through our Home Delivered Meals Program and offer nutrition education to all seniors to help them make good food choices for optimal health.
“Not another minute can pass before saying my heartfelt “thank you”…for allowing me to receive your meals…I sincerely thank each of you for your kindness and consideration.
Those meals are definitely making me stronger, with each passing day. We are so blessed to have this service. And, may I add, both Francisco and Carlos [drivers] are jewels. They make my day. Very humbly, Frances.”
Every afternoon Home Delivered Meals client Frances, age 62, is greeted by either Francisco or Carlos. They deliver her food but they also give her a warm smile and ask how she’s doing. They offer kindness and comfort at a time in her life when she has very few people to turn to. The food is nourishing her body but the interaction with the drivers nourishes her spirit.
Legally blind and unable to drive or work, Frances relies heavily on the Home Delivered Meals program. She receives 2 meals a day, 7 days a week.
The Supportive Services program addresses the barriers that typically compromise the wellbeing of low-income seniors. We are their safety net, providing a comprehensive, integrated network of vital services for healthy aging that focus on prevention, intervention and education in partnership with staff they feel comfortable talking to. With the fear of having to move to a nursing home high on the list of reasons many do not seek assistance until an emergency arises, it is critical to provide a support system they can trust. The Supportive Services program is composed of three core service areas: Social Services Case Management, Homeless Prevention, Supportive Housing Services.
Utilizing a housing first model, the Homeless Prevention Program connects homeless seniors with case managers who provide them with access to housing, meals, health services and counseling. Clients work with their case manager to set up individualized case plans with mutually agreed upon goals toward achieving stable housing and successful independent living. The case plan includes helping seniors access benefits they may be eligible for (Social Security, Medicare, SSI, etc.), developing a savings plan, undergoing a health assessment with the nurse and addressing medical needs. Senior Community Centers has 10 units at the Sara Francis, a single room occupancy (SRO) Hotel, where seniors are able to live before transitioning to permanent housing. The average stay for clients in this program is 90-120 days. The overall goal for clients participating in this program, is to move into and maintain permanent, affordable housing. With a 90 percent success rate, most seniors achieve this goal.
Safe and secure permanent, affordable housing ensures that seniors remain healthy, happy, and independent for as long as possible. One of the greatest concerns expressed by our senior clients is being able to live on their own and we do all we can to support their efforts to do so.
Seniors living in one of our two housing facilities have their own apartments, enter into rental agreements and pay their own rent, just as in other rental housing. The difference is that they can access on-site supportive services including a nurse, case manager, meals, computer lab/library, garden/private patio (depending on location) and social activities, all designed to address their individual needs and help them live satisfying lives.
Bill and Sonja (ages 91 and 82), were found living in their car downtown. Displaced when they lost their home in the Northwest, they were unable to find an affordable place to live and had no choice but to sleep in their car on a downtown street.
They were referred to the health and wellness team at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center that afternoon who discovered they hadn’t had anything to eat all day. Our nutrition staff quickly put a hot meal together that absolutely amazed the couple. They couldn’t believe that assistance like this was available. Asked how they were doing, Sonja gave a big smile and said, “Much better now!”
They met with a case manager who assessed their needs and placed them in a room at a hotel downtown through our Transitional Housing Program. Soon after, they moved into our permanent supportive housing facility, City Heights Square where they can visit with a nurse or a case manager, eat a nutritious lunch, and socialize with other residents.
The Lifelong Learning program helps seniors remain active by offering a variety of activities that engage them mentally, physically, and socially. Whether it’s learning a new skill, joining an exercise class or locating a volunteer opportunity, there is something for seniors of all backgrounds.
Classes are open to all seniors in the community at no or low cost and include fitness, interactive games, Health seminars, Arts and Crafts, computer skills and social activities.
The Civic Engagement program highlights seniors’ strengths rather than needs or weaknesses. By discovering their talents, skills and abilities, older adults are encouraged to form relationships and participate in meaningful activities to enhance the quality of their lives and give back to the community.
Community volunteers are Individuals, service groups, and corporations who donate thousands of hours each year through our Serving Seniors program, serving lunch at our various locations or helping with classes.
“The best thing about tai chi is that in order to do it, you have to completely forget about everything and relax. In doing so, you take away the possibility of falling and find balance.”
Since participating in tai chi, Roberta, age 71, who’s suffered multiple strokes in the past, has regained her confidence in walking and can now even walk backwards without the fear of falling.
Gwen shared, “The nurse is good, she is really good, she has really monitored me a lot.” Her physician is very pleased that she has the nurse at SCC to assist her patient and is very pleased with Gwen’s progress. Gwen leads an active lifestyle singing in the church choir, volunteering, teaching a crocheting class, cooking for neighbors in need and spending time with her friends and family. None of this would have been possible without Gwen’s commitment to managing the disease and the consistent support from our nurse case managers.
Nurse case management is a vital part of the health and wellness services offered by Senior Community Centers. Many of the seniors we serve have health issues that have not been addressed for a long period of time, if at all. We often find that clients are not aware of how their behavior affects their health condition. The nurse is able to take as much time with each client as needed to counsel them on their medication, diet and the importance of monitoring their condition. This program has improved the overall health and wellbeing of hundreds of clients and reduced the need for emergency services.
Since 1970, Senior Community Centers’ innovative solutions have helped San Diego seniors struggling with poverty and hunger. The thousands of meals the organization provides each day to their clients are not a luxury - they are a necessity. The nutrition not only keeps them alive, but often keeps them living independently on their own rather than in institutional care, which costs taxpayers much, much more. From meals to housing to health and wellness services, no other San Diego area non-profit agency provides the wraparound support the seniors need under one roof. With ongoing state and federal budget cuts, Senior Community Centers bridges this growing financial gap for seniors and provides a safety net for seniors, who otherwise would have nowhere to turn.
Senior Community Centers now serves over 500,000 congregate and home-delivered meals annually. Other services include nutrition and health education, healthcare and social services, mental health services, entitlement and legal counseling, case management, civic engagement, recreational and social activities, homeless prevention and affordable supportive housing. Each program plays a critical role in the survival, health, and independence of seniors who, in most cases, live below the poverty level.
Being a strong “voice” for all seniors through advocacy at all levels of government and through the media is an agency core value. It works to dispel “aging” stereotypes to ensure that seniors are treated with the dignity and respect they are due.
Accomplishments: Opening the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center, an innovative model focused on proactive rather than reactive programs and services designed to help seniors age the way they want – with dignity, respect, fun, independence and good health. It has received significant national attention for the unique offerings and Senior Community Centers’ ability to leverage partnerships (about 25) to enhance service delivery.
One of those partnerships is with SDSU’s College of Health and Human Services which provides seniors with increased access to health and social work assistance while introducing student interns to the field of geriatrics in a “learning laboratory” environment unlike any other experienced during their studies. Faculty members are on site to guide the students and to conduct research projects.
The agency’s President/CEO, Paul Downey is president of the Washington DC based National Association of Nutrition and Aging Service Programs (NANASP) – the advocacy leader in national aging policy issues. Downey is a Steering Committee member for the California Elder Index which determines “income adequacy” for seniors’ basic needs such as food, shelter and healthcare. The data shows that about half of seniors in the state lack the money for basic needs.
Priorities: Build diverse revenue streams to sustain and grow programs that meet demands of an exploding senior population. These include fundraising, social ventures, increased federal funding for seniors, investments, and generating more revenue from services currently provided. Complete the framework for an evaluation model that will demonstrate the impact of services and help with building the case for additional grants funding. Increasing advocacy efforts at all levels – nationally, statewide, and locally – is of the utmost importance, particularly as it relates to reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, a critical piece of legislation affecting all seniors.
The following are Senior Community Centers’ most pressing needs:
Senior Community Centers has served seniors living in Downtown San Diego’s urban core for over 40 years. Low-income seniors reside throughout the County, and as smaller meals providers have closed their doors, SCC has expanded its reach into Chula Vista, National City, San Ysidro, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley, Mira Mesa, and City Heights. Senior Community Centers is the County of San Diego’s largest provider of senior meals and will continue to expand to meet the need as long as funding is available.
Paul Downey became President/CEO of Serving Seniors (formerly Senior Community Centers) in 1995 and has guided the agency’s innovative efforts to provide supportive services focused on keeping low-income seniors healthy and independent. Nutritious meals (breakfast and lunch) are provided 365 days per year to over 2,100 seniors at 10 sites in San Diego County.
Serving Seniors’ flagship facility, the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center, provides case management, healthcare utilizing the latest in wireless technology, mental healthcare, life-long learning and civic engagement for the seniors. It is already considered a national model for the comprehensive provision of supportive services for seniors in poverty.
Paul has been a leader in the fight to provide affordable housing for seniors. He opened a 200-unit, low-income, senior housing complex called Potiker Family Senior Residence in downtown San Diego in August of 2003. He opened a second project, a 150-unit affordable housing complex for seniors in City Heights, in August 2007. The agency also operates transitional housing for homeless seniors.
He is the immediate past-President of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP) based in Washington DC and a Steering Committee Member for the California Elder Economic Standard Initiative. In August 2012, Paul was appointed to the California Commission on Aging by Assembly then-Speaker John A. Pérez. Diane Jacob, Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, appointed Paul in September 2013 to the County’s Social Services Advisory Board. He is past chair of the City of San Diego’s Senior Affairs Advisory Board and past chair of the Dean’s Advisory Committee for the College of Health and Human Services at San Diego State University.
He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a degree in journalism. In July 2010, he completed a certificate program in Strategic Perspectives in Non-Profit Management from Harvard Business School.
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