Connecting 50 Years

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Pre-pandemic staff and seniors gathered at the local senior center to share meals and more. Photo credit: The Senior Connection

The Senior Connection garners $2.3M despite COVID challenges

By Eric Valentine

A nearly two-year pandemic isn’t easy on anyone, but among the hardest hit in any community are its senior citizens. With Blaine County’s recent re-emergence as a COVID-19 hotspot, challenges for the elderly don’t figure to cease any time soon. That’s why the latest news coming from The Senior Connection couldn’t come at a better time.

In just the last nine months, the Hailey-based senior citizen center has raised $2.3 million of a $2.5 million fundraising campaign launched in celebration of their 50th anniversary.

“We needed to plan for our sustainability and the future. This campaign was essential to help the organization prepare for the growth we have, and continue to experience,” said executive director Teresa Beahen Lipman.

The fundraising program has been coined the “So Much More Than Lunch” campaign. Although pandemic restrictions since March 2020 have temporarily caused shutdowns of The Senior Connection’s services, the center has kept as many programs open as possible. Among them are the Meals-on-Wheels and Curbside Pickup programs. The programs serve over 25,000 meals to seniors in their home and at the center every year.

Unfortunately, the programs that have suspended operations at The Senior Connection are equally missed. They include:

Provide over 10,000 hours of home and personal care that helps seniors remain in their own homes

Offer over 5,000 rides to the center, errands, medical appointments, and more

Help reduce falls and improve overall fitness with daily fitness classes

Fight isolation and loneliness with activities and events

Fortunately, an Air Quality Improvement project that was part of the campaign budget was covered via a Community Development Block Grant from the Idaho Commerce. That means the organization’s fundraising goals have, technically at least, been reached.

The campaign, which began in March of 2021, had been delayed from 2020 due to the pandemic and is the first campaign of this size for The Senior Connection in over 10 years. It addresses some critical needs in four areas that are not included in the annual operating budget:

Capital Needs—two new Meals-on-Wheels vehicles, a bus and additional parking

Program Expansion—a vision and hearing center, kitchen expansion and a video/iPad connection program

Staffing—additional personnel, healthcare reimbursement and affordable housing assistance

The Future—increasing Long-Term Funding/Operating Reserves

The organization is moving forward with fulfilling the needs addressed, such as purchasing the two new Meals-on-Wheels vehicles. This was a critical need as the program grew 427% in March 2020—when the COVID-19 lockdown was implemented—and remained at this level throughout 2021. Volunteer drivers are grateful for the new trucks as they navigate through all sorts of weather to get homebound seniors a hot meal, a friendly face, and a safety check, the organization said.

The Senior Connection is also moving forward with its plans for a new vision and hearing center, which will be opening in Ketchum by spring of 2022, providing free screenings to all seniors. The kitchen expansion is scheduled to start in the next month.

“I would like to thank each of the volunteers who served on the committee under the leadership of honorary chairpersons, Marie Gallo, Mardi Shepard and Leslie Silva. They truly were a dream team,” Mike Beck, the board chair, said.

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