GOSHEN — When one door closed, another opened for the Council on Aging of Elkhart County.
The agency has moved its weekly Life Enrichment program for seniors in Goshen to a new location at The Life Center, 1212 W. Plymouth Ave, where it debuted for the first time Tuesday, Jan. 14. The new space is just three miles away from its previous home at the Salvation Army, which will continue to have services for seniors at its headquarters at 1013 N. Main St.
The Council on Aging’s Life Enrichment program will give seniors new opportunities that were not possible at the previous site because of the Life Center’s size and location, according to agency Executive Director Tammy Friesen.
The relaunching of the agency’s program has also opened the doors to new partnerships, including one with the Elkhart County Parks Department for outdoor activities during the spring and summer. The program, which is geared toward seniors 55 and older, has joined forces with IU Health Goshen Hospital to offer wellness programs that will feature blood pressure screenings, diabetes education and nutrition information as well as a clinic to help seniors clip their toenails. Speakers will visit monthly to talk about financial planning, healthy living, insurance, retirement and other issues that impact seniors.
“We try to keep the seniors engaged, and that’s what it’s all about,” said Bonnie Waltz, the program’s director. “We don’t want couch potatoes. We want to be able to enrich their lives with activities and keep their minds engaged.”
The program is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays with a free meal served at 11:30 a.m.
Miss Indiana USA 2014, Mekayla Diehl, visited the Life Center on Tuesday to check out the new space. Diehl, who is from Bristol, chose to advocate for Bashor Children’s Home as a service project and hopes to get the organization involved with projects with seniors who participate in the Council on Aging’s programs.
“I think it’s very important to keep elders especially active because it’s so easy to just stay at home. Anything from going to a Bible study or learning a new trade really helps,” said Diehl, adding she was raised by her grandparents.
The turnout at the Council on Aging’s opening of its new Life Enrichment site was small, but Cleo Yonkers, a senior from Elkhart, didn’t seem to mind.
“I think this is a beautiful, beautiful place,” she said. “It’s very important to be able to talk to people and to see people, and it’s important not to stay day after day with my cat.”
Friesen, the agency’s leader, is optimistic that participation at the site in Goshen will pick up.
“We’re coming off the holidays, so there are still a lot of people that are gone,” she said. “The weather has been dicey, and there are a lot of people who are not venturing out even though we’ve had warmer temperatures. It takes time to build these programs, but I anticipate next week and the following week to see rapid growth at that location.”
The Council on Aging has three other Life Enrichment sites: The Cabin, 107 N. Walnut St. in Wakarusa; the Tolson Center, 1320 Benham Ave. in Elkhart; and First Presbyterian Church, 200 E. Beardsley Ave. in Elkhart. The agency plans to expand into new territory in May by opening new sites in New Paris and Middlebury.
“We’re trying to get the entire county covered,” Waltz said.
The Life Enrichment program is funded by the United Way of Elkhart County, township trustees, grants and donations. The Council on Aging plans to provide transportation to and from its program sites to make it easier for seniors who want to be part of the program. The agency has received a grant from the Elkhart County Community Foundation that will be matched by the state of Indiana to buy two new vehicles.
“That is one of the biggest challenges for people,” Friesen said. “When the weather is nasty, they don’t like to drive, and many people don’t drive at all.”
The Salvation Army in Goshen will continue providing programs for seniors from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with a free meal served between 11:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. The Salvation Army recently received grants from the Elkhart County Community Foundation and the Thomas Lyle Williams Foundation to prepare food boxes for seniors and provide computer training with new laptops.
“Over the next five to 10 years, the population of senior adults is going to grow in Elkhart County,” Salvation Army Maj. Allen Hanton said. “We are grateful for the grants that we’ve received to be able to provide a place for them to come.”