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RapidChat: Robert Barnes on the inspiring work of older adults and the community that supports them

Senior Neighbors helps older adults connect to local services. Not only that, but "Older adults are an important part of the fabric of our community, but outside the need to offer some of them assistance, they often go unrecognized," emphasizes President of Senior Neighbors, Robert Barnes — who established the annual "16 over 60 Awards Gala."
Robert Barnes

Senior Neighbors helps older adults connect to local services. Not only that, but "Older adults are an important part of the fabric of our community, but outside the need to offer some of them assistance, they often go unrecognized," emphasizes President of Senior Neighbors, Robert Barnes — who established the annual "16 over 60 Awards Gala" to celebrate achievements and contributions later in life.
Rapid Growth: How is Senior Neighbors serving older adults within West Michigan?

RB: Senior Neighbors helps older adults connect to local services and to other people to help them stay active and well as they age. Our senior centers provide a place to have a meal, join an exercise class, and be with friends on a regular basis for fun and socialization.

We also assist with transportation, minor home repairs, provide Medicare and Medicaid assistance, and case management. We have several volunteer opportunities to help seniors stay engaged, because we know that whatever stage in life we are in, we need a purpose and for some people, volunteering is a great way to pursue meaning in their lives.

RG: How has the organization evolved over the years?

RB:  The fundamentals that have existed for the past 47 years of Senior Neighbors serving Kent County have not changed much — such as empowering seniors to maintain their independence and enhancing their lives. Although, the services to achieve these outcomes have evolved over the years. For instance, with the increasing costs in the housing market in West Michigan, we have seen the demand for a Housing Coordination Program grow very quickly in recent years. Also, the coming years will require continued expansion as the Baby Boomers continue retiring in large numbers.

RG: How do most older adults get connected with Senior Neighbors?

RB: Most referrals are typically word of mouth from other seniors, calls to 211, and referrals from other organizations that serve older adults. The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan is also a very close partner of Senior Neighbors in a variety of ways and helps to connect seniors in need of services.

RG: What are some of the organization’s most utilized services?

RB: The need for our services continues to grow alongside the exponential growth of the older adult population, but transportation and senior centers are two of the busiest services. On average, older adults outlive their ability to drive by six to 10 years, so we help them get to their medical appointments, the grocery store, senior center, and other important services that help them stay independent. Our senior centers offer a wide variety of ways to get involved. Each center works with its members to decide much of what is offered, so the centers are each unique and stay relevant and focused on what the seniors want to participate in regularly.  

RG: Why do you think it is important to provide services such as these to the greater Grand Rapids community?

RB: Nearly 90 percent of older adults want to “age in place” — that is, stay in their own homes as long as possible. While families provide most support for older adults, some families are unable to assist because of distance or other reasons, and some seniors are alone and have no natural support system. 

RG: What inspired the inaugural 2018 “16 over 60 Awards Gala?"

RB: Older adults are an important part of the fabric of our community, but outside the need to offer some of them assistance, they often go unrecognized. We wanted to establish an event that would elevate the contributions of older adults in our community who may not be widely recognized but who are engaged in their community and inspiring to anyone who would notice the important things they are doing. They may be working in a career, caregiving, doing volunteer work, or something else that inspires us.

RG: Do you plan to host another event in 2019?

RB: Absolutely! 16 Over 60 is scheduled for Wednesday, November 13th at Frederik Meijer Gardens.

RG: How did you go about selecting the event honorees?

RB:  There was an open nomination process for anyone in the community to make a nomination — whether they were selecting a close friend or a public figure. In this first year, there were 100 nominations, so the selection process was certainly not easy. Thankfully, we had a committee of volunteers that worked together to review all the applications and made the final choices. Each one was considered as to how they were engaged and inspiring.

Jenna K. Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media
 
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