Senior Center welcomes visit from state leaders

Pictured, from left, are ETHRA ETAAAD Aging Services Manager John Bender, Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank, Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability Aging Program Consultant LaVerdia McCullough, Anderson County Senior Director Cherie Phillips, and Anderson County Commissioner Robert McKamey (Dist. 5).
Walk into the little brick building behind Walgreens on 195 Edgewood Avenue on any given day of the week and one is likely to find a crowd of 40 or more senior citizens socializing or actively engaged in whatever activity Clinton Senior Center Director Cherie Phillips has scheduled for seniors on that particular day.

The first object in view on entering the building is a calendar of events posted on the opposite wall.

It is typically jam-packed with activities for every day of the month.

Whether one enjoys knitting, crocheting, bingo, chess, gin rummy, puzzles, coloring books, Bible study, trivia games, or socials, the senior center in Clinton offers an array of activities and services geared to appeal to the local residents ages 65 and up.

The parking spaces were full, and seniors from all over Anderson County lined the room inside the building to capacity on Wednesday, March 29, for a surprise visit from representatives from the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability and the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency who were touring senior center facilities in East Tennessee.

The purpose of the visit from the state Commission on Aging and Disability was to observe what services and activities the senior centers are offering seniors and to possibly determine what ways the state can help improve and fund senior services and programs.

Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability Senior Center and Aging Program Consultant LaVerdia McCullough and East Tennessee Human Resource Agency Aging Services Manager John Bender visited the center on Wednesday on their tour of East Tennessee facilities.

The Commission on Aging and Disability is the state agency that provides leadership statewide on issues relating to aging and disability. Its mission is to bring together and to leverage programs, resources, and organizations in the state to ensure Tennesseans with disabilities, and those age 65 and older are able to live independent, quality lives.

For several years, the Commission has administered state funds that provide multipurpose senior center programs, homemaker services, public guardianship, and home-delivered meals to seniors.

“We act as an information resource for senior centers throughout the state, advocate on the senior’s behalf, encourage them to make good decisions, and help older adults empower themselves. We also provide technical assistance,” McCullough said, “when we visit each of these senior centers we want to find they are doing just that. This center is doing just that.”

McCullough commended Senior Center Director Cherie Phillips for her work in helping the area’s seniors get the services they need, and for expanding the programs and services offered in Clinton.

“Cherie works so hard and is doing a marvelous job. I wish I could clone her,” McCullough said.

“She truly goes above and beyond in what she does for this center. She has received multiple certifications and gotten years of training in order to perform the job well,” McCullough continued.

McCullough commended Anderson County Mayor Frank, who was also present at the luncheon at the senior center on Wednesday, for her role as county executive in supporting the senior center.

“The mayor is to be commended for her work with the senior center and Office on Aging. It’s not often you find county leaders this supportive,” McCullough said.

Also present on Wednesday for the state’s visit was Anderson County Commissioner Robert McKamey (Dist. 5). McKamey played a key role on County Commission in getting a senior center in Clinton, and is currently advocating for a newer, larger center.

McCullough stated this was the first time she has visited the senior center in Clinton, and noted that she was impressed with the number of volunteers that came out to the center to assist Phillips.

“I’m impressed with the participation of volunteers. This is fantastic and shows how supportive the community is,” McCullough said.

There are currently 20 volunteers who volunteer at the senior center, according to a February 2017 in-kind report of the Clinton senior center.

Early last year, Phillips and her team of volunteers began serving hot meals to seniors one day a week. In a few months’ time Phillips was able to start serving hot meals three days a week.

The meals are no cost, she said.

“Seniors don’t have to pay for the meals we provide. They’re free. A lot of the food we get is donated,” Phillips said.

John Bender, Aging Services Manager for ETHRA’s East Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability (ETAAAD), was at the center Wednesday with McCullough to look at the center’s operations and review its services.

ETHRA/ETAAAD serves 17 counties in East Tennessee, and is the regional agency on Aging and Disability.

ETHRA provides information and referral services, outreach services, and local community advocacy/assessment services for Tennessee residents.

It is funded through the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability and funds are allocated to each county’s senior center through an approved ETAAAD funding formula, Bender said.

Bender explained that ETHRA acts as a point of contact citizens can use to help them identify services, and helps direct them where to go for services.

Phillips said the visit by the Commission on Aging and Disability is a rare event, one that does not happen often, and usually only occurs for a special reason.

“When the state chooses to visit a center it is kind of a big deal,” Phillips said, “The state normally doesn’t come visit. It’s not often that they do, but because of the good job that’s been done here we have the state here to visit us. They’re going to try to do what they can on their part to help us.”

The senior center on Edgewood Avenue has only been in existence for one and a half years.

In June of 2015, Anderson County Commission voted unanimously to take over the Office on Aging contract from ETHRA’s oversight. County Commission negotiated a deal in July 2015 with B&B Properties to lease, at a rate of $1,896 a month, the brick building behind Walgreens, what had formerly been used as the food stamp office.

Phillips, who has more than a decade of experience working in the Office on Aging, has taken note of the rise in participation of seniors using the center since the county started overseeing the center, and said participation is up more than it ever has been.

She said she is “tickled to death that more and more seniors are using the center,” but, at the same time, concerned the limited space will continue to be a problem as more seniors continue to use the center.

“We’re bursting at the seams most days,” Phillips said, “we need to do something about the parking, too. We’re running out of room--and fast.”

According to information posted on the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability website, Anderson County is projected to have a 45 percent growth rate in its senior citizen population by the year 2030, meaning by 2030, approximately 27 percent of all the county’s residents will be 65 or older.

There are currently 28,800 seniors living in Anderson County. Of those 28,800, 21,880 pay property taxes.

Anderson County has the third largest senior citizen population in East Tennessee.