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Amelia Islander

New Home, Expanded Services

Aug 20, 2018 09:59AM
In late 1974, George Crady had just lost his second political race to serve in the Florida House of Representatives. Around the same time, he received a call from a woman in the federal Department of Community Affairs asking if he would be interested in starting an agency in Nassau County that would serve senior citizens.

“I was told the organization could apply for a grant from Community Affairs and could possibly organize the local groups that were helping the elderly,” says Crady. “I began by calling together the scattered groups of people for a meeting to discuss the future agency. The response from the public was overwhelming, and volunteers were abundant. Our meetings were monthly and consistently grew larger over time.”

Crady was elected chairman of the organization, named the Council on Aging (COA) at the request of the Department of Community Affairs. Elsie Harper was elected Secretary and Edgar Lindsey was elected Treasurer. “We voted to start with three divisions,” says Crady. “After winning the grant from Community Affairs, we rented an office and hired a young lady to answer the phones in the Referral Division, which was named ‘How Can We Help?’ The second division was the ‘Meals on Wheels’ program, which was headed by Elsie, and the third division, headed by Edgar, was ‘Transportation.’” The Council on Aging’s mission was to help seniors (adults over the age of 60) by providing services of compassionate care that foster independence and help their clients remain active, valued members of the community. George Crady’s tenure included publicizing the COA’s mission with grassroots marketing, such as walking through town in a stocking cap asking people to help seniors in the community.

Fast forward more than four decades. Today’s Nassau County Council on Aging served 2,876 members in 2017, a 16% increase over the previous year, with 183 volunteers donating 9,746 hours for an in-kind monetary value of $235,268.14. Earlier this year, the Council was named the “2017 Nonprofit of the Year” by the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce.

NCCOA President & CEO Janice Ancrum has “come home” to the Council, having worked for the organization when she was 16 years old, her very first job. “I came to work all dressed up with high heels, excited, and ready for my first real job,” says Ancrum. “Little did I know I would be sent to someone’s home to weed the garden! After that, I spent all summer weeding and working outside. It was an experience I’ll never forget. But it was very satisfying, knowing I was helping seniors in need.”

Ancrum has been with NCCOA for six years, and the growth she has seen within the organization and the seniors served is phenomenal. From volunteers to staff, board members to community leaders, the agency’s success is due to a team effort. “There are so many stories, especially from the very beginning, of how we worked together to make the vision of truly taking care of seniors a reality. I remember hearing about the generosity of Buddy Jacobs for his legal expertise and strategic guidance throughout the process of the Council receiving its 501(c)(3) status,” Ancrum relates. “The agency did not have the funding to pay for his services, so he agreed to be paid in lemon meringue pies! From our humble beginnings, we now serve close to 3,000 seniors each year, and we expect to double that number following the move into our new building at Island Walkway.”

In 2008, NCCOA had a vision to increase their services and purchase their own building to help meet the needs of a growing senior population. At present, they lease the building adjacent to Baptist Medical Center Nassau. “Baptist has been extremely generous to the Council on Aging; in fact, they are our lifeline,” says Ancrum. “They’ve been taking care of the maintenance and upkeep of the building and grounds and charging us a nominal fee for the lease. But we’ve outgrown the building, and realized we’d have to take the next step.

“Ten years ago, we initiated the “Building for Our Future” campaign. We looked at six properties, and in early 2016, we settled on the Rayonier building at 1901 Island Walkway,” says Ancrum. “At more than 28,500 square feet, it’s the perfect size and it’s centrally located, with plenty of space to provide the increased services and activities we need to serve our seniors in Nassau County.” The organization is leasing a portion of the building to Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, and it also has 17 single-office executive suites. The space features conference rooms, a media lounge and café, computer lab, fitness center, game room, and a Grand Hall with commercial kitchen, which can be leased for special events.

“Our goal is to serve all seniors, not just a few,” says Ancrum. “The Council on Aging is a community organization for everyone, seniors and their families. Our Adult Day HealthCare for people with dementia provides a respite for caregivers and family members. Our classes and activities are open to adults of all ages, and you don’t have to be a senior!”

“In spite of our successes and accomplishments, Hurricane Irma threw us a curveball last September,” says Ancrum. “Our dream of moving into our new building in early 2018 was put on hold as the powerful storm caused more than $1.4 million in catastrophic damage, mostly to the roof and building structure. But in Irma’s aftermath, many heroes have come to our rescue!”

Generous donors have also contributed to the new building through a capital campaign, and the community has stayed in touch with NCCOA’s progress. “Geoff Clear, Board of Directors Vice Chair and Capital Campaign Co-Chair, as well as our temporary ‘Building Superintendent,’ has worked tirelessly with a steady stream of architects, contractors, engineers, adjusters, and the insurance company on behalf of our seniors to help resolve the many post-hurricane issues,” notes Ancrum. “For his extraordinary efforts, Geoff received the 2017 Elsie Harper Volunteer of the Year Award during the Nassau County Volunteer Center’s 33rd annual Volunteer Awards Luncheon.”

Earlier this year, the state budget featured one line item especially important to Nassau County: a $400,000 Nutrition Support Program for 20,000 Northeast Florida seniors, awarded to NCCOA and soon-to-be housed at 1901 Island Walkway. Championed by State Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach) and State Rep. Cord Byrd, (R-Neptune Beach), the program will help fight hunger by providing warm, nourishing meals for homebound and nutritionally challenged seniors, as well as more than doubling the number of seniors served through nutrition programs by 2020.

“Our commercial kitchen will house the Nutrition Support Program, provide the nutrition Nassau County seniors deserve, and allow us to deliver nutritious meals to low-income veterans of all ages,” says Ancrum. “It will also provide emergency assistance as a disaster response center with back-up generators. Of course, we hope to never have to offer this important resource, but we’ll be ready.”

[heading style="subheader"]Programs and Services for Seniors[/heading] NCCOA’s mission has evolved to reflect the needs of a changing population. Their mission is to enhance the lives of older adults through services and compassionate care designed to improve the health, independence, and economic security of Nassau County seniors and their families. Currently, Nassau County Council on Aging serves seniors by providing vitally important resources such as case management, nutrition, and Adult Day HealthCare.

NCCOA also partners with local and state-funded programs to assist with home energy crises (EHEAP) and facilitate City of Fernandina Beach wastewater, refuse, and/or storm water fee exemption applications for qualified residents. Case managers provide seniors, families, and caretakers information on resources, programs, and supportive services available to seniors and their caregivers in Nassau County. These services help seniors to age in place and navigate local, state, and federal systems necessary to the aging process.

For those seniors receiving state and federal grant subsidized services in Nassau County, NCCOA’s case management ensures services are provided in compliance with the Department of Elder Affairs. Nutrition managers oversee the Life Centers in Fernandina Beach and Hilliard, where congregate meals are offered daily. They also manage Nassau County’s Meals on Wheels home-delivered meals program.

More than 2,200 balanced nutritious meals are delivered by volunteers each month to those who are homebound due to illness, disability, or isolation. Meal delivery also allows volunteer drivers to perform regular safety and wellness checks. In addition, these volunteers provide Meals on Wheels for Pets, which ensures that homebound seniors receive necessary pet food and supplies for their companions.

The organization’s Adult Day HealthCare, the only one of its kind in Northeast Florida and affectionately known as “The Club,” is supervised by a licensed nurse and Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) and promotes each member’s daily success, maintaining or re-establishing a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. The program provides therapeutic activities and individualized care, as well as planned social outings and events. Professional dementia counseling is also available. NCCOA’s Home Health service area experienced a significant increase in the number of hours provided in the homes of Nassau County seniors in 2017. Non-medical, in-home services include personal care, respite, home making, and companion services. In the past year, services provided have doubled from 400 hours to more than 800 hours on average per week.

[heading style="subheader"]Senior Life Centers[/heading] “Our new home at 1901 Island Walkway will open in September for staff, and in October for the community,” says Ancrum. “This facility will help us provide even greater programs and services at our Fernandina Life Center, including expanded congregate meals, medical screenings, health and wellness clinics, and exercise classes. Individuals will be able to use the Wi-Fi in our media lounge and café with a tablet or laptop, and even enjoy some coffee and conversation. Enrichment classes in art, crafts, music, technology, and more will be offered, as well as lifelong learning educational opportunities!”

NCCOA’s newly announced membership program offers priority registration and discounts for presentations and classes, free use of the media lounge and café, library, computer lab, game room, and fitness area, as well as invitations to special events throughout the year. The fee for individual members is $100 per year, quarterly membership for $35, and monthly for $15. Couples (two people sharing one household) may join yearly for $160, quarterly for $40, or monthly for $20. The Council is running a special membership rate through the end of the year of individuals for $75/year, couples for $135/year.

Both Fernandina and Hilliard Life Centers offer those 60 and older assistance, information and support, as well as a variety of fun and engaging activities, plus opportunities to socialize. With the establishment of a Membership Director position, community outreach, and greater social media presence, participation in Fernandina Beach activities has increased by 40 percent. New corporate partnerships have secured increased in-kind donations and volunteers.

Some of the programs and offerings include educational classes and seminars on topics of interest to seniors such as Social Security, Medicare, senior fraud, and advance directives. In addition, structured exercise with certified trainers, presentations by area musicians, arts and crafts with local artists, games, karaoke, line dancing, and technology workshops keep seniors fit in both mind and body. NCCOA also provides medical screenings and programs on diabetes, blood pressure, dental health, plus a full breakfast, hot lunch, and snacks.

[heading style="subheader"]Transportation Services[/heading] NassauTRANSIT, launched in 1984, continues to be the only mode of public transportation in Nassau County, providing both scheduled public bus and registered paratransit services with a fleet of 25 buses. The public bus service has convenient bus stops across the county from Hilliard to Fernandina Beach. Commuter express routes connect both east and west Nassau County to River City Marketplace and downtown Jacksonville. The Island Hopper bus provides local transportation in Fernandina Beach. The fare for scheduled public bus service is only $1 each way with no charge for transfers. Registered paratransit is available to all qualifying county residents and provides curbside service for medical appointments, social engagements, recreation, and shopping. Advance reservations are required and the fare to board is only $2 each way. In addition, a service agreement reached with the Nassau County School District provides after-school transportation for students in a job training and placement program. All NassauTRANSIT bus operators are certified to FTA and FDOT requirements, and all vehicles in the fleet are wheelchair accessible.

[heading style="subheader"]NCCOA’s Upcoming Events and Grand Opening[/heading] The NCCOA holds ongoing fundraising events and quarterly campaigns, one of which is this year’s Rock ‘n Roll Gala! at Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort on October 19. A Senior Expo & Health Fair will be held on September 14 at the Atlantic Recreation Center, in partnership with Baptist Medical Center Nassau. The ribbon-cutting for their new building at Island Walkway will be held on September 17, and their Grand Opening event will be held on October 24 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. “We’re especially excited about our Grand Opening, which will be hosted by Sen. Aaron Bean,” says Ancrum. “There will be speeches, music, history, food, and tours of our new facility. We are so excited to be open for our seniors in our new home!”

For more information about NCCOA, visit www.nassaucountycouncilonaging.org. To contact the Fernandina Life Center, call (904) 261-0701; for the Hilliard Life Center, call (904) 845-3331.