By Benjamin Goodin
It might be easy to miss Senior Services of Central Illinois completely if you didn’t know what you were looking for. Tucked into a tidy but unassuming lot, just slightly off of Walnut and Mason Streets in Springfield, the building looks a bit like an office rental space that just so happens to be nestled in the shade of Douglas Park. The name doesn’t make it sound like a lively place, but that assumption distantly bypasses reality. Inside the subtle building is a vibrant, thriving heart of active seniors enjoying dancing, a game of pool, group fitness, lunch, and, of course, a few hands of cards. As well as the senior participants, almost fifty staff members are there working together to provide community services that enable older adults to remain in their homes for as long as possible.
“We’re one of the best kept secrets of Springfield,” Karen Schainker, Executive Director for SSCI, chuckles. “Most people do not know what we are or what we do and because we are a senior center, they often just keep driving looking for the Panera or the Y or someplace they can be with people their own age but not have to think of themselves as “senior.” When they do meet us and they see the people coming and going, they’re amazed at the size of the physical property and the diversity of services and things to do. All are invited to come in for a tour — friends, family, and neighbors.”
This neighborly disposition clearly permeates the core of Senior Services of Central Illinois. Although accessible companionship and entertainment are much needed for the senior population, who often grow more isolated as they age, SSCI offers more than just a community recreation center for citizens over 50. They host a diversity of non-medical services and partnerships that benefit seniors and sometimes other demographics; services that help to ensure the quality of life and general health of one of America’s largest at-risk communities.
Although the community center on Mason Street is a primary location for seniors to meet, recreate, socialize, and engage in fitness, SSCI also provides a myriad of other services from this location. The RSVP program (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) for Sangamon, Logan, and Menard counties is one of those programs. Through RSVP, seniors with appropriate skills, knowledge, or simply motivation are matched with community organizations where they donate their time and expertise to give back to the community. The need for volunteers throughout the community is greatly in demand, and RSVP helps over 350 area seniors stay engaged and active by matching them with any one of over 60 local organizations in need of volunteers.
For seniors looking for a physical challenge, SSCI administers the Illinois Senior Olympics, with national qualifying events held every other year. Participants must be 50 or over, but there are participants and winners who are well into their 90s competing. Last year, the youngest participant was 49 (turning 50 before the end of the year) and the oldest was 99! The events are different than the traditional international Olympics mainstays, but offer friendly competition in over 20 different trials: 5 and 10K runs, triathalons, cycling, swimming, pickleball, bridge, archery, basketball, softball, tennis, shuffleboard, horseshoes, golf, and even newer events like Wii Bowling for seniors who still have the competitive drive, if not the total physical ability to participate.
A major concern for older individuals is their nutritional health. Appropriate nutrition is a keystone of general health, a support that many seniors lack access to. Whether it is because a senior can no longer make it to the grocery store, they lack the knowledge or the skills for preparing healthy meals, it is difficult to stand long enough to prepare a healthy meal, or if they can simply no longer afford quality food, SSCI offers two programs to make sure that seniors receive fundamental nutrition. Daily Bread is a program offering a daily opportunity to receive a balanced nutritional meal through the Center. A donation of three dollars a meal is suggested, but the Center does not turn away those who cannot pay. The Daily Bread meals are provided in two settings, either at a congregate meal site (of which there are eight located throughout Sangamon and Menard counties) or home delivered to those with mobility concerns. SSCI also administers Springfield Specialty Meals on Wheels, which delivers healthy meals to community members with specialized dietary needs. Meals delivered by this service are prepared under the supervision of nutritionists at the local hospital and distributed to those in need. Both nutrition programs rely heavily on volunteers to deliver the meals and keep the programs rolling.
SSCI offers a wide spectrum of programs that help to support seniors through the challenges of aging. A very important service the organization offers is Comprehensive Care Coordination, which performs a full assessment of a senior’s physical, mental, social, and financial needs, and returns the analysis to the senior with a recommended plan of care and a list of agencies who can help provide the needed services. Care coordination is just the beginning of how SSCI can help seniors navigate the complexities of aging. Through SSCI, transportation services are available to seniors who are no longer able to drive, or who find the cost of owning a vehicle and licensure prohibitive. Counseling and aid services are available to seniors who are the victims of abuse, low-income individuals, and those in need of mental healthcare. SSCI partners with the Illinois Department on Aging to provide Choices for Care, which helps inform seniors who have been recently hospitalized how to choose appropriate post-discharge services and care plans. Money management services are offered as well to assist seniors in managing finances and meeting their fiscal obligations.
Senior Services of Central Illinois has been providing services that help seniors lead rich, independent lives throughout Sangamon, Logan, Mason, and Menard counties for 50 years. SSCI is not a governmental agency but relies primarily on state and federal grants and fundraising to finance its operations, a task that has been accomplished despite a tighter, more restricted budget in the last two years. The facility has recently had to impose some cuts to services, but is reluctant to sever access to any of their programs indefinitely. Services are now limited on Fridays due to budget cuts, and they may be having to find creative ways to keep their operation fully functional, but the staff of SSCI maintains a positive attitude about continuation of their services.
Originally opening in Springfield in 1967 as the White Cottage, the success of the agency expanded as new programs and services were added. Now offering over 15 core services and programs, SSCI is celebrating its 50th anniversary this April. A celebratory event has been held each month of this operating year, with the grand anniversary celebration to take place on April 27th. The public is invited to enjoy the open house and tours of the senior center alongside cake and an elegant dessert buffet. The celebration will culminate in a mayoral proclamation at 6pm that evening, recognizing Senior Services of Central Illinois’ 50 years of devoted service and the positive impact it has had on the lives of many in the community.
Please visit ssoci.org to view further information on the celebration, to learn more about the services that they offer, and to learn how you can contribute to 50 more years of senior services in Central Illinois.
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