The Newton County Senior Center has long been considered one of Georgia’s best. Recognized for its growth and different activities, it has earned numerous innovative program awards. Recently, the director, Freda Reed, was bestowed the 2019 ADRC Senior Center Director of the Year Award for Georgia.
With seniors comprising a quarter of Newton County’s population, knowledge of this tremendous community asset is essential. Having only two directors in its 48-year history, the county’s wise decision to promote from within allowed for a seamless transition between directors.
Freda Reed answers questions about the Center, its operations, and the nonprofit component.
When was Newton County’s Senior Center established?
FR: One of the older centers in Georgia, the Senior Center was formed in 1972 to serve the City of Covington and surrounding areas. It initially began as a feeding program. However, the first director, Ms. Josephine Brown, quickly saw the needs of seniors went beyond food, and she worked tirelessly to provide senior-oriented activities and socializing opportunities.
How has the Senior Center changed?
FR: The Senior Center has evolved quite extensively. Moving to numerous locations due to the growing number of participants, the current Senior Center at Turner Lake will be expanded this year to accommodate the almost 400 members. The Center has always sought to feel like a second home while also being a place of innovation.
What are surprising things about the Senior Center?
FR: Amazingly, some people still do not know the Senior Center exists! I want those folks to come visit us. There are also people who think we are only a food program and bingo place, but we offer so much more. We have ceramics, arts and crafts, quilting, sewing, exercise, drama, dancing, computer, book club, dominoes, choir, travel, day-trips, nutrition classes, fellowship, grandparents club, workshops, holiday entertainment, etc.
How is the Senior Center funded?
FR: State, federal, and local entities provide funding for on-site and most home delivered meals plus some basic recreational programs. The county provides personnel, overhead cost, and transportation vehicles. Everything else must be supported through the Senior Center’s nonprofit by grants and corporate and individual donations; this includes more programs, activities, trips, etc. Even with the county’s Senior Center expansion, many items such as furnishings and equipment will be left for the nonprofit to provide due to budget restraints.
Why did the county add a nonprofit component?
FR: Simple. Many grants require applicants to be nonprofits. The nonprofit board is an independent agency that can provide services to the Senior Center. This 501(c)3 nonprofit is controlled by a volunteer Board of Directors and assists the Senior Center financially through grants, donations, and fundraisers. The nonprofit’s official name is Newton County Senior Services, Inc.
Why is the nonprofit so important?
FR: The nonprofit is vital to provide extra activities. What state, federal, and local money does not cover, the nonprofit covers. For example, government money for the Home Delivery Meals program only goes so far. Therefore, grants are needed to subsidize these necessary meal funds. The nonprofit pursues grants so more homebound seniors are fed. The nonprofit also entirely funds or defrays most of the cost for seniors to enjoy workshops/classes, day-trips, special occasions/holiday events, and activity supplies. The nonprofit has even worked to purchase a vehicle for staff to deliver meals to the homebound to help decrease the waiting list for Home Delivery Meals.
Are the extras really necessary?
FR: Yes! Our seniors deserve the best! The nonprofit gives seniors an even better experience by allowing more activity choices. I will use a sugar cookie analogy. With tax payer money, I have to justify every single penny. If we serve sugar cookies from tax money, they must be plain sugar cookies because some might think it unnecessary to fund extra frills like icing and sprinkles. I think seniors deserve more because they have earned it. Thus, the nonprofit pays for “icing and sprinkles.”
Do other Senior Centers have nonprofits?
FR: Some do, and others are actively looking into starting their own. A few centers actually have their municipalities “buy-in” to help finance the services provided. Funding will always be an issue for senior centers, and the nonprofit is our solution for assistance.
Why is the Senior Center one of Georgia’s best?
FR: The Senior Center started very small and, through much effort, grew into something very successful. We think outside the box. We are innovative and not afraid to try new things. We share our ideas. Consequently, other centers look to us as an example. We have implemented numerous original programs that other centers now use and thank us for suggesting. All Northeast Georgia counties have modeled something from us, and many counties around the state have too.
What makes the Center so successful and unique?
FR: As one of the fastest growing and most vibrant senior centers, we must meet the needs of our diverse population so all can enjoy and feel at home. We have a great staff and excellent volunteers. The large number of activities makes us stand out because most centers do not have the selection. Our Drama Club and Voices of Wisdom Choir are very special programs not easily found elsewhere.
Why did you choose to work here?
FR: After working 23 years in corporate while also volunteering at the Senior Center, the job I held moved. Ms. Josephine Brown hired me for an available position here. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was about to become my mother’s caregiver, so this job was a lifesaver. This is not an occupation where one becomes rich in material things, but what one receives is priceless. Ms. Brown instilled the need to lead with the heart but follow the rules. Since coming here, I saw the potential seniors had, so I set out to prove seniors still can do things, still can learn, and still matter. I would not trade this job for anything. I love my job and the people I work with.
How did it feel to be named the 2019 ADRC Director of Year for the State?
FR: It was a surprise! I had no idea I had been nominated. I credit my staff as part of the reason behind the award because we really work as a team. I am more of a “quiet doer” focused on getting things done rather than recognition.
What is the organization that bestowed the award?
FR: The Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) covers all Georgia senior centers and provides staff training, workshops, resources, and some basic programing. Under ADRC guidance, the state is divided into 12 regions, and our region is Northeast Georgia. Each region has a representative to provide tailored information to that area such as lists of available grants.
Every year, directors from each region are nominated for the Top Director award. I was chosen due to the creative ideas and activities I have implemented such as starting a choir, drama club, and grandparents group. Additionally, they noticed my dedication to research, pursuit of grants, and my ability to make things happen.
How excited are seniors about the expansion?
FR: They are ecstatic. They have waited so long for this. We recently held the groundbreaking ceremony, which was covered by local papers with over 100 in attendance from as far as Athens and Jasper county to support our celebration. Immediately, we had new seniors join because they read about it. Personally, I would like more workshops and learning opportunities for seniors and the community. The expansion will allow us space to serve more seniors.
What is your vision for the Senior Center’s future?
FR: I hope the Senior Center becomes a complete resource center on state, federal, and most importantly, local levels. We have some resources, but more are needed. A full-time call-in center to answer questions or give referrals would be helpful. Seniors struggle with transportation, so it would be nice for our buses to eventually offer doctor appointment rides on certain days. A great need exists for us to be equipped to handle early Alzheimer’s/dementia seniors. Right now, they grow out of our Center because their needs require more care. Before I retire, I would love to have infrastructure in place so all seniors regardless of their needs can be cared for at the Senior Center.