Angeline Pellien was always independent.
At 81, she would jump in her car and pick up friends to go to the movies or out to dinner. If she had an errand to run, it was never a problem to pop out.
That all changed after a car accident two years ago that left her with a brain injury and recurring memory loss.
Pellien, 83, a retired nurse practitioner from New York state, moved to Kansas City in March to live with her son and daughter-in-law. It was a decision she and her seven children made together. Once she arrived, she was confronted with decisions about her health care.
“My choices were very limited,” Pellien said. “Either to bring someone into the house, go to a senior home, or to try out the senior center.”
After much hesitation, Pellien decided to try Platte Senior Services Inc., a senior center.
“I figured it would be all knitting and crocheting and that’s about it,” Pellien said. “I just had no idea.”
At the senior center, she participates in activities like art classes, exercise classes and mealtimes five days a week. The center provides transportation to and from her home each day. All the services are free, although donations are accepted for meals, she said.
Pellien is one of thousands of local seniors who take advantage of the resources available in Platte and Clay counties to those 60 and older. And she’s not alone in initially feeling less than enthusiastic about joining a senior center.
“They tend to think that frail elderly playing card games is the norm,” said Kathy Macken, executive director at Platte County Senior Fund.
“They couldn’t be further from the truth. Today’s senior centers are active hubs of fun.”
Keeping local seniors active both mentally and physically while allowing them the independence to age in place — or stay in their homes as long as they want — is the goal behind three organizations in the Northland.
“When we were looking at our priority we really wanted to focus on prevention and health,” said Tina Uridge, executive director at Clay County Senior Services. “If we can do anything to get people to think about staying active and exercising, that will help delay the need for other services.”
Clay County Senior Services, Platte Senior Services Inc. and Platte County Senior Fund — all nonprofit organizations — offer seniors 60 and over services like Meals on Wheels, exercise courses, transportation to and from medical appointments, home repair and home safety modifications, and home respite care among others.
In 2015, Clay County Senior Services served 7,269 individuals through its programs. The organization has contributed $250,000 each to develop senior centers in Kearney, Smithville, and most recently, Excelsior Springs, a new center slated to open this fall. It also helps support the annual operations of three of the senior centers.
Platte County Senior Fund has partnerships with Park Hill Community Education and Northland Career Center and is negotiating plans to partner with three YMCAs in the county.
“One of the things that we know from the demographics in the county is that there will be many more seniors,” said Deanna Armstrong, executive director at Platte Senior Services Inc. “The baby boomers are aging so there will be more people that could use the services.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of people age 65 and older in the United States will almost double by 2050, from 43.1 million in 2012 to a projected 83.7 million. The baby boomers, who began turning 65 in 2011, contribute largely to the increase.
And as families become more mobile, seniors are often left to fend for themselves, Armstrong said.
“It’s a huge challenge to create a community where seniors still feel motivated and involved. Sometimes it’s hard to convince seniors that there is something out there for them.”
Platte Senior Services Inc. offers line dancing classes, board games, group exercise classes like Zumba and art classes. Pellien, for example, recently took up a “Memories in the Making” painting class, which helps people with memory loss and Alzheimer’s.
The organization provided 37,000 meals to local seniors in 2015 through its Meals on Wheels program, said Armstrong, including through its centers in Dearborn and Weston.
Platte Senior Services Inc. receives more than half of its funding from Platte County Senior Fund, which is housed in the same building. The two organizations don’t overlap services, but they do refer clients to one another.
Platte County Senior Fund, for example, provides respite care, transportation to and from medical appointments and home repair. It also offers support groups like the Northland Grandfamilies program, which helps grandparents cope with raising grandchildren and other family members, Macken said.
The organization, founded in 1994, has a baseline annual funding of $185,000 generated through a property tax in Platte County.
Fall prevention is a key component to both counties’ programs. By preventing falls, seniors stay out of the hospital and in their homes longer, Uridge said.
“We know that falls are not a normal part of aging, whereas before people thought there was nothing to prevent falls,” Uridge said. “Through strength exercises and good nutrition and setting up your home, a fall can be prevented.”
In February, Clay County Senior Services received the Organizational Citation Award from the Missouri Park and Recreation Association for its dedication to improving the health of seniors through its exercise program partnerships.
Through the partnerships with local community centers, including the YMCA in North Kansas City and North Kansas City Hospital, Clay County Senior Services offers seniors courses at a discounted quarterly rate of $30.
Northland resident Florence Leber attends the warm-water exercise class at North Kansas City Hospital.
“My movement is better,” said Leber, 83. “My walking is better. And just in general I’m better.”
Leber, who has been attending the class for more than three years, said it has helped her with the arthritis in her legs.
Sharon Dittmer also feels a difference after taking the warm water classes. She said it relieves her back pain and enhances her physical therapy.
“Everybody is living long enough to have joint pain and muscle pain and back pain,” said Dittmer, 66. “This warm water class has just been perfect for that because you can keep your strength up and when you do it in warm water, it doesn’t hurt. It’s very relaxing.”
Health benefits aren’t the only motives that keep them coming back. The classes are something they look forward to, they said, because they’re a great way to stay connected to the community.
“The teachers all call you by your first name,” Leber said of her instructors. “And I was not here for a couple weeks, and they clapped when I got back.”
Staying active, however, is only one component of aging in place. Small adjustments to homes can make all the difference in one’s ability to stay home longer.
“My porch was falling apart and it was getting to where I couldn’t get up it anymore,” said Liberty resident Jeff Bumgarner, 66.
Bumgarner, a retired minister who uses a walker to get around, said Rebuilding Together Clay County reconstructed his front steps to accommodate his walker. They also added a hand-held showerhead and a portable chair in the bathroom to prevent falls.
His wife, Penny Bumgarner, heard about Rebuilding Together Clay County — a partner of Clay County Senior Services — through a friend.
“We live on Social Security,” Penny Bumgarner said. “There are so many times we need things, but we can’t make payments.”
Rebuilding Together allowed her and her husband to make payments with no interest, she added.
The non-profit organization, founded in 2001, has worked on 550 homes in the last 15 years, said founder Clay McQuerry. The program currently works with seniors in Clay County, but is in the process of expanding into Platte County in coming months.
Clay County Senior Services also recently rolled out its new Northland Hired Hands partnership program that provides seniors vetted help to maintain their homes, Uridge said.
“The idea really came out of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office seeing so many people being taken advantage of,” she said. “This is a way for people to access reliable, trusted services.”
For more information about other services, seniors are encouraged to call the centers directly or visit their websites.
The most important thing, said Armstrong, is to keep an open mind.
“I would say just try us out. Everyone needs to feel that they are a part of a community of caring people.
“And what most people say when they experience our services or our centers, is that everyone is just so nice and so supportive.”
Pellien knows firsthand.
“It’s opened my eyes to a lot of new things,” Pellien said. “It was the best decision of my whole life.”
Senior services in the Northland
▪ Northland Shepherd’s Center, 4805 N.E. Antioch Road, No. 9, Kansas City, North, http://northlandsc.org, 816-452-4536