Just south of West Jefferson is a relatively sleepy 18-acre campus of 1990’s-ish stone buildings fronted by a convenient parking lot and a welcoming, but unassuming entrance. But, step beyond the front door and you are suddenly wandering down a yellow brick road to a place of genuine kindness, energy, activity, and warmth.
Welcome to the Ashe County Senior Center, a program of Generations Ashe – “Where age is just a number”! According to their stated vision on the website, it’s “A community sharing the power of connections through life’s journey”. Their mission is “Connecting People. Embracing challenges. Enriching lives…from generation to generation”.
The Power of Connection
The Center’s Executive Director, Patricia Calloway, the exceptional staff, and committed volunteers have created a place for the more senior members of our community to find respite, companionship, encouragement, security, and some down-home fun. There are the fundamentals of free healthy food, physical activity, and wellness checks. But there are also opportunities to learn new skills, visit with the preschoolers next door, enjoy the company of friends, hold a hand, or hug a puppy. There is drumming, tech chat, informational sessions about Medicare or medication management, assistance with filing income taxes, book sales, and a host of other activities. But mostly there is a sense of belonging, respect, meaning, and community.
We are fortunate to have a number of such senior centers in our District. Caring for and about our elderly community members is an essential part of our responsibility as families, and as a community. Intergenerational living is a challenge in today’s busy society and programs like the Ashe County Senior Center provide a critical support for families concerned about aging parents and grandparents.
Thriving through Leadership and Pure Determination
During my visit, I was first struck by what a “truly caring staff” can accomplish, not your typical ”caring staff”, but one who cares deeply about their residents, patients, clients, and children. I saw a leadership team that had struggled through a pandemic and had come out on the other side stronger, better, and more resilient than ever. One who had not only faced monumental challenges and sacrifices, but yet through pure determination and will, they had thrived. Who, when they talked about the last two years of serving their community, actually teared up recalling how hard it had been. I saw a leader (Ms. Calloway) and a leadership team who deserve more recognition that they will ever get. I saw a group of heroes and it made me proud to know that they are fellow Ashe County and High Country leaders.
Modeling Collaboration and Service
Senior centers are part of a loose network of programs across our nation that successfully combine non-profit, government and other community resources to provide extensive services to our aging population. These centers provide a model for collaboration across community agencies to address local needs. Services typically include in-home aide, congregate and home delivered meals, transportation, chore services, adult day care, and assisted living and memory care. Unfortunately, not all services are available everywhere or available to everyone – yet.
Fostering Connection and Personal Enrichment
No one in their older years should need to suffer loneliness, depression, malnutrition, substandard housing, or unmanaged pain. Senior centers are a place where communities come together and Generations Ashe stands as a model example of what can be accomplished by committed individuals who relentlessly pursue a noble vision born of compassion and huge hearts. They have expanded their vision to the life span of community needs and are figuring out ways to integrate community members of all ages to foster connection and personal enrichment. Kudos to the wonderful people who make this their life’s work.