How SCSEP Helped Strengthen a Local Partner

In today’s economy, public service cuts are hitting everywhere, in the countryside, suburbs and cities. And while aging programs for some of the most vulnerable among us—low-income, older adults—are not being spared, our SCSEP partners and participants are doing their part to keep them going.

In the Borough of Queens, New York, the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults (JSPOA), our local partner for nearly three decades, has fully integrated SCSEP into their agency. SCSEP participants have helped JSPOA open new senior centers. At a time when New York City is reorganizing its aging services, JSPOA is relying on SCSEP participants to help maintain its reach protecting the welfare of low-income and other older adults.

We are awed by the creativity of retiring JSPOA executive director Carol Hunt, who has long expertly woven together multiple resources—including those of JSPOA and SCSEP—to take advantage of opportunities and minimize setbacks.

Carol says it makes a huge difference that all of JSPOA’s SCSEP participants, or enrollees as she calls them, live in the community. So they identify strongly with serving its older people, and actually know some of them, she explains. This gives JSPOA credibility you can’t beat.

For example, enrollees delivering meals notice when others aren’t acting right, like when someone takes longer to come to the door, says Carol, who has a gerontology master’s degree and is the immediate past president of the National Institute for Senior Centers. They’re the eyes and ears for changes that go on with older people, especially those confined to home.

When Carol came to JSPOA in 1989, it had been our SCSEP subgrantee for five years. It ran three senior centers, serving mostly ambulatory adults 60 and older, from all walks of life. The centers were primarily funded by federal and municipal dollars.

The centers offered these older visitors a nutritious meal and involved them in activities supporting socialization and mental and physical health. Some of JSPOA’s then almost 80 SCSEP enrollees were assigned to the senior centers. Others served local non-profits including schools and hospitals.

The centers were so successful that, in 1993, JSPOA successfully competed against other non-profits for funding from the New York City Department for the Aging to open three more. And SCSEP participants were key to making the expansion work, Carol says.

SCSEP participants helped create awareness of the new centers, all located in low-income senior housing. And they filled in what budgets had left out.

For instance, at one new center mandated to prepare lunch for 125 individuals, there was money in the budget for only one cook. So SCSEP participants assisted in the kitchen. Or a new center would have money for a van and driver to ferry individuals to medical appointments, but that was it: SCSEP participants were there to help older folks in and out of the van.

It was SCSEP dollars and enrollees that fleshed out what we got from New York City, the entire service delivery of our expansion, Carol says.

Jump ahead to 2010 and a severe economic recession forces New York City to cut money for the three new centers as of June 30.

The loss of programs offered by the new centers was bad enough. But the loss of lunches was devastating, says Carol. If meals were still offered, many seniors would still make their way to the new centers. Without the meals, they wouldn’t come, and as a result socialize with others far less.

And, according to Carol, socialization is critical for the oldest of the old—from the late 70s through 90s—many of whom live alone.

When you’re isolated at that age and don’t have daily contact with others, you focus more on your illnesses, she explains. You deteriorate faster, need more medical care, and depend more on family members for help.

Carol cooked up a plan: The closed sites will continue to offer lunches, prepared at one of the original centers. This fall, SCSEP participants will begin transporting the food to the new centers, serving and cleaning up. Without their assistance, I couldn’t even think of doing this, Carol says.