Shepherd’s Center of the Northland works to make golden years truly golden

08/27/2013 12:00 AM

08/26/2013 11:47 AM

Bandanas and a barnyard theme set the stage for some 30 older adults to clap, tap and sing along with Cowboy Abe to such familiar favorites as “Home on the Range” and “Red River Valley” last week.

“He brought back old memories and old times,” said Helen Foley, 99, of North Kansas City. “I look forward to coming here every Tuesday.”

As much fun the audience had with Cowboy Abe — the alter-ego of retired Kansas City, North, minister Abe Reddekopp — his performance helped the Shepherd’s Center of the Northland meet an important goal. The western balladeer was entertaining the BreakTime Club so caregivers could have a weekly break while their loved ones enjoyed four hours away from home.

The club is one of many services and programs the center offers to seniors in the Northland year-round. Most are free.

Since its founding in 1990, Shepherd’s Center of the Northland has steadily added support groups, transportation, classes, minor home repairs and other services to help seniors in Clay and Platte counties lead active lives and stay independent.

“I like getting out, being with people instead of home by myself,” said Gary Bock, 67, of Kansas City, North, who has been attending BreakTime Club for five months.

The newest service, Health and Benefits Check Up, proved to be so popular that it just surpassed the $1 million mark in financial and other assistance to Clay County residents 60 years of age or older.

Clay County Senior Services funds the check-up to identify federal, state and private money to help people with prescription drugs, energy bills, food, legal services, housing and other needs. The service also helps find free cell phones, rent and property tax credits, free eye exams and a eyeglasses.

“These benefits can be life-changing,” said Deborah Babbitt, a social worker who coordinates the program.

Babbitt packs a laptop computer, a portable printer and scanner and meets with seniors in their homes. Completing an online screening process helps her locate programs clients are eligible for.

The check-up is free. Eligibility for benefits and assistance is based on income, age, residency or other qualifications.

Since the Health and Benefits Check Up started in September of 2010, some 500 Clay County seniors have been screened and more than 75 percent have received some financial or other benefits.

The program has been so successful in Clay County that the Shepherd’s Center of the Northland received funding to expand the program into Platte County on July 15.

The center operates at Antioch Community Church as an interfaith nonprofit organization, one of several in the metropolitan area and 60 nationwide.

The concept for the centers originated in Kansas City in 1972 with Elbert Cole, a United Methodist minister. He chose the name based on the reference in the 23rd Psalm to the Lord as a shepherd.

The center’s attention to seniors is “all about quality of life,” said executive director Rebecca Gordon, who has been with the nonprofit for 21 years. “Our seniors have given so much over the years. They should not be forgotten.”

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