Durham group works to serve seniors

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Durham County is home to over 49,000 individuals age 65 and older, a population that is expected to grow to 69,000 in 2025.

For many of those seniors, coping with daily life can be a challenge. And for their family members who typically serve as their volunteer caregivers, it can be physically and emotionally draining.

Cathy Stallcup should know. For four years, after serving as executive director of Presbyterian Ear Institute in Albuquerque, N.M., she lived in Taos, caring for her father, who had suffered a massive heart attack, and for her mother when her health also failed.

And for the past two years, as executive director of the Durham Center for Senior Life, she has headed an organization that provides programs and services for 5,000 to 6,000 seniors a year, as well as respite care for about 30 volunteers caregivers.

“I was totally privileged I could provide that for my parents,” says Stallcup, who shopped and cooked for her parents, scheduled their doctor appointments, ran errands, and provided personal care and hygiene for them.

“Not every aging person has family members or devoted friend to provide that,” she says. “What happens to all these people? That’s why we exist.”

The organization grew out of the Golden Age Society, a group founded in 1949 to provide neighborhood clubs for seniors. It was renamed the Council for Senior Citizens in 1968, and got its current name in 2010.

Working with an annual budget of $1.4 million, the Center employs 16 people full-time and eight part-time, counts on 30 to 40 active volunteers, and operates a main facility downtown and three satellite sites at the W.D. Hill Parks and Recreation Center, JFK Towers on North Roxboro Road, and Little River Community Center in Bahama.

The satellites provide a daily meal to seniors and individuals with disabilities, along with an opportunity to socialize with one another.

“That’s one of the devastating aspects of aging,” Stallcup says. “Some seniors cannot get  out and about. We want to help seniors remain in their communities and take part in activities.”

The Center provides transportation; an adult day health program; education, fitness and exercise programs to promote health and prevent disease; and provides activities from games to movies.

It also offers information and assistance to seniors facing challenges.

And it provides respite and support for caregivers, contacting with in-home health vendors who can provide in-home aid so the caregivers — typically spouses, siblings or other family member, many of whom also are seniors and facing aging issues of their own — can take a few hours off periodically.

The Center, which is celebrating its 10th year in its current home downtown, will a hold its annual fundraising breakfast on October 13 at the Center.

Now, to find ways to expand its services to keep pace with the needs of the growing population of seniors, the Center is about to begin working with Executive Service Corps of the Triangle to develop a strategic plan.

The year-long effort will assess a broad range of needs for seniors ranging from “food deserts” to transportation.

“The number we’re serving now is a drop in the bucket,” Stallcup says. “If we can provide them with a place where we can transport them and provide socialization activities for them, then we are hopefully alleviating some of the depression that can easily take place.”

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