Senior millage will fund exciting projects to keep older adults active and social



By Cynthia Price

“My own personal professional mission is to make Muskegon County senior-friendly,” says Elizabeth Donnelly-Johnson, Site Activities Manager for Agewell Services, “so that wherever you live or go, they know there’s something for them. We want them to stay here and live here and thrive here.”

Senior Resources/AgeWell Services of West Michigan won the contract to be the “holding agency” for the funds resulting from voters approving a Senior Millage in 2016, and Donnelly-Johnson is rolling out the second phase of programs made possible by that funding.

This consists mainly of expanding the number and locations of senior activities and focusing on health promotion.

However, the initiative’s common-sense first step is to reach out to senior citizens themselves, and ask what activities excite them.

There will be a number of “Lunch’’N’ Learn” opportunities to do this in the coming months. All sessions, which include an update on what the Senior Millage is funding as well as a free meal, are from noon-1:30 p.m. They are:

  • Aug. 20, Sept. 17 and Oct. 22 at White Lake Adult Community Education, 541 E. Slocum St., Whitehall;

  • Sept. 19, Oct. 17 at Orchard View Community Education, 1765 Ada Ave., Muskegon;

  • Sept. 14, Oct. 12 at MCC Lakeshore Fitness, 900 W. Western Ave., Muskegon;

  • Sept. 26, Oct. 24 at Reeths-Puffer Neighborhood Improvement Association, 75 E. River Rd., North Muskegon.

“As we’re starting to build these activities, we need to know what it is people are looking for. I can’t hit a bullseye every time, so we’d like them to be very candid and tell us what they like. Is it a trip to a museum, hiking in the North Muskegon Nature Preserve? The Lunch’’N’ Learns are a platform for them to tell us,” says Donnelly-Johnson.

She adds that she often hears that for seniors, the challenge is getting to programs. There is funding allocated for help with such transportation, which they are still formulating. As of now, plans are to designate specific hubs, such as those hosting the Lunch’’N’ Learn series, from which transportation to events or venues can branch out. If participants can find family members or neighbors, or drive themselves, to the hubs, the Senior-Millage-funded programs will take it from there.

Donnelly-Johnson, who has a masters in communication from Grand Valley and used to work for the Alzheimer’s Association, also notes that they would love to attract many more volunteers.

The first phase of the Senior initiative included funding for elder abuse prevention, and for congregate and home-delivered meals. “Even at the congregate meal sites, we’ll be asking, ‘What would you like in addition to a hot meal?’ Maybe they’d like to learn something new, or do a yoga meditation or Bible study,” Donnelly-Johnson says.

As far as health promotion, well-publicized research indicates that activity and socialization help reduce illness and feeling badly.

The group’s approach to greater health, which is carried out by many other agencies in addition to AgeWell, is called SPINS, which stands for Social, Physical, Intellectual, Nutritional and Spiritual. The partners have developed many programs that fall under the SPINS categories. These include Zumba Gold, senior dances, Adopt-a-Grandparent, art classes, and “Bingo, Board Games and Brews.” The Lunch’’N’ Learn listed and many more in the future will bring topics that come from the listening sessions.

Donnelly-Johnson emphasizes that the programs will be aimed not only at the 80- to 90-year-olds that some view as the only audience, but also at the baby boomers who fall into the 60-70 age group.

She adds, “We’re speaking to Rotary, at Chamber events,  and going to places like the Holton Fair, to get people to be advocates and help get the word out. We hope the participants will too.”

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