AAI interviewed Cathy Bleecker, Nutrition Program Manager, and Terri Sylvain, Care Manager, both with West Marin Senior Services. West Marin Senior Services is a non-profit agency that has been providing services for over forty years to older adults in all of the 15 unincorporated villages and ranches that make up the 325 square miles of West Marin. Cathy and Terri talk about the many resources, services and partnerships needed to help seniors live safely with dignity and respect in their community.
What do you do for West Marin Senior Services?
TERRI: I am one of four case managers at WMSS; my territory is the northern section of West Marin, including Marshall, Tomales and Dillon Beach. I meet with seniors in their homes to assess their living situation, advocate on their behalf and determine what assistance they might need, and provide options and solutions for successful aging.
CATHY: I run the Home Delivered Meals and the Senior Lunch programs. The Home Delivered Meals serves 3 times a week in San Geronimo Valley, Point Reyes Station, Inverness, Dillon Beach, Tomales and places in between. The Senior Lunch serves about 40 seniors every week at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes. It’s my responsibility to find, train and schedule volunteers for both these programs.
How did you get into this kind of work?
TERRI: I worked for 25 years in the long-term care insurance industry. After I left the corporate world, I attended Dominican University of California and received my B.A. in Psychology. Working with seniors was and is important to me, so my undergraduate internship was at West Marin Senior Services. Upon graduation I was offered a position at WMSS. I signed on for one year and I am now entering my ninth year. I still love what I do!
CATHY: I worked in the hospitality business for many years, in customer service, at hotels and rented apartments. I also volunteered at my church for different events such as funerals and fundraisers.
In what ways does your organization help our older adults?
TERRI: We connect seniors to services. We offer case management and home care referrals, and provide respite grants to family caregivers, friendly visiting, transportation assistance, home delivered meals, a senior lunch program and home care equipment loans. We also offer community education and wellness by sponsoring workshops, support groups and senior activities to promote healthy lifestyles. When living at home is no longer the best option, we offer assisted living at Stockstill House.
CATHY: The Home Delivered Meals program is the only service of its kind in West Marin. We provide heart smart, nutritious and tasty fresh meals to homebound seniors. Sometimes, people just getting out of the hospital also use our program until they are on their feet again. We provide a lunch or evening meal with fruit and milk. When volunteers deliver meals, they also check-in and visit with people. They are often the only person a senior will see that day, so it’s essential socialization.
The weekly Senior Lunch is a fun and happy event that combines good food with a wonderful venue at the Dance Palace. The seniors we serve there are friends or soon-to-be-friends who share conversation and good food. We have music on the first Thursday of the month. Bread & Roses sends top performers every other month. On alternating months, Tina Carella and her pianist Jack Dawson perform from American Songbook.
Please share one of your favorite work stories:
TERRI: There was a lovely couple in their 90s who lived in Dillon Beach. They no longer drove and had no in-home care providers or help. They also had chronic medical conditions; among them, the wife had Alzheimer’s which was progressing. They were very frail. I helped them get their wish, which was to remain in their home and to not be institutionalized. In order to achieve that goal I worked with them to develop a plan that included our home-delivered meals, transportation assistance, and eventually in-home care, and when the time came, hospice. Their hospital beds were set up next to each other in their living room so they could hold hands and look at the beautiful ocean view that they loved so much. We arranged for friendly visitors and worked with their daughter who lived far away to ensure that they enjoyed their final days in safety and comfort in the home that they loved. Mission accomplished!
CATHY: I remember a gentleman from Bolinas who was a well-known newspaper man. He came by the Senior Lunch regularly with two of his friends. He was a colorful poet and a happy dancer when there was music. He was so much fun. He regularly attended the lunch into his 90’s!
How has collaboration help you do your work? Specifically, your relationships with other organizations?
TERRI: At WMSS we work with many agencies, most of whom are in the AAI network such as the county’s Aging and Adult Services, Marin Transit, Whistlestop, the Alzheimer’s Association and the SF-Marin Food Bank to coordinate and provide services and support to seniors in West Marin. AAI provides an opportunity for all of these agencies to come together to share information and opportunities for networking which is extremely important.
CATHY: Collaboration is key to our work. We work with Good Earth to get organic meals and Bread & Roses for musical performers. And all our volunteers provide vital support for our programs and services.
Tell us about your involvement with Aging Action Initiative (AAI):
TERRI: I’ve been to some AAI Convenings and participated in the first Inform & Connect workshop. I stay connected by reading the AAI newsletter. I am also a member of the Paratransit Consortium, and attend the Marin Mobility Consortium and CASS meetings so the biggest benefit to me of AAI is the Inform & Connect workshops. It’s a great opportunity to be in the room with others who provide services to seniors in Marin. The networking opportunities it affords are extremely useful.
CATHY: I attended an Inform & Connect workshop last year. I liked meeting with other professionals and interacting in an informed environment. I learned about an array of programs that people in Marin County could access. Unfortunately, many of these programs are not available in West Marin and are out of reach for our seniors. It was reassuring to hear about the exciting things that are happening in East Marin. It was very helpful to have a larger perspective of what other organizations are doing to help the community.
What is your vision of an Age-Friendly Marin?
TERRI: That all areas of Marin are age-friendly and that access to vital services such as social programs, transportation, affordable housing, and internet connectivity are available for residents of West Marin.
CATHY: That the seniors of West Marin would be included in the array of helpful programs and not be left behind.
Aging Action Initiative (AAI) is a collective effort of over 65 different agencies, grassroots organizations, commission and neighborhood groups, funded by the County of Marin and coordinated by MARINSPACE, collaborating for an age-friendly environment. For more information visit agingactioninitiative.org or connect with us on Facebook.