BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Senior Center has doubled its membership in the last year and is seeking to expand its services to even more people.
Tracie Thompson, the executive director of the Upshur County Senior Citizens’ Opportunity Center, attended the Feb. 2 Upshur County Commission meeting to illustrate their plans to expand their existing programs and request funding as part of the effort.
“It’s our goal at the Upshur County Senior Center to be able to reach out to every senior in Upshur County in need of food, healthcare, nutritional information, exercise, transportation, computer technology classes or socialization, giving our seniors the most support and information we can by partnering with local agencies in our in our county,” Thompson said.
The senior center underwent several cutbacks during the pandemic, resulting in a restructuring of its staff and programs.
“We reopened in 2021, I came on as executive director in October, and we’d only been open for three months,” she said. “Nobody was coming in to eat and seniors were pretty fearful of COVID. They were used to being shut in, and as we all know, depression becomes a real thing. We lost half of our home health staff, which put a lot of people on waiting lists so they couldn’t get the services they needed. We had a very small staff. We did continue Meals on Wheels, but with our small staff, we couldn’t expand Meals on Wheels and reach out to people in need.”
So the staff came together to make plan to encourage seniors to return to the center and reach out to more people.
“We started by putting a newsletter together and getting that to all the members we had at the time,” Thompson said. “We only had about 350 members, so we brought on more activities — Zumba, Tai Chi, line dancing, the list goes on and on. We started getting lunch menus, so they started coming in for congregate meals. It’s been a year now and we are we have doubled our membership — we’re up to over 750.”
As their membership has grown, their staff has also added new people to accommodate new clients.
“We’ve been able to hire health care workers, which took a lot of people off the waiting lists for all of the health care services we provide, and we also started partnering and reconnecting with all of our agencies again — Veterans Affairs, our Medicare and Social Security folks with the state health assistance program,” Thompson said. “They come in and provide support for Medicare and Social Security issues. We also reconnected with Country Roads Transit and we provide funding to them for seniors, so they don’t have to pay large amounts to get to medical appointments.”
The senior center also added another vehicle to expand its Meals on Wheels routes.
“The county’s population is about 23,791 people, and out of that there are about 5,000 seniors in this area,” Thompson said. “Right now, we’re only currently able to serve 15 percent of the seniors even with everything we’ve done in the last year. We need your help to grow and reach out to more seniors, and that’s why I’m here today. We would like to expand our Meals on Wheels to include our more of the Rock Cave and French Creek areas, and we would love to be able to expand our kitchen.”
Thompson asked the commission to provide $20,000 in funding to the center. Upshur County Commissioner Sam Nolte said they will be evaluating the county’s budget soon and would consider the request during budget sessions.