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Senior resources are plentiful in the area

SCHUYLER COUNTY—The golden years can seem more like a pot-metal era for those challenged with economic and physical hardship, often made more overwhelming by distant family, deteriorating living conditions, or a crisis in health or circumstances.
But there are multiple agencies offering help to make sure elders in need can live healthy, warm, safe and cared-for, in their own homes, for as long as possible.
Seniors are variously defined as adults older than 60, or 62 or 65; or those receiving Social Security, “If their parents are still living, they’re not the seniors,” says Tammy Waite, Director of Schuyler County Office for the Aging (OFA).
 “There is not enough help for the people who need it,” Waite says.  Despite this, there’s a good deal of help available for those who know where to find it, and the OFA, among other agencies, struggles to get the word out about local, state and federal programs intended to assist those with limited financial resources.
In Schuyler County, Families First (607/535-2710) was established to help connect people of all ages to long-tem services –“Not just nursing homes but services in the home,” says JoAnn Fratarcangelo, Director of the Youth Bureau, as well as Families First.  “That can mean adaptation, hooking people up with places that provide services, information, referrals and assistance.  There’s a wide variety of things we have done and do.  We’ve helped people fill out applications for rent assistance; we have an extensive listing of resources.  And we’ve helped people with eviction notices, electric shutoff, people with small children, elderly and everybody in between.”  
“Some people are quick – they need a little assistance and they’re on their way; others need our help on a periodic routine basis,” Fratarcangelo says.  “Sometimes we’ve helped people make sure the services they’re getting are the appropriate services - and is there anything else I could be doing?  A lot of times we find people just don’t know what services are out there, or what benefits they already have and how to access them.   The Department of Social Services (DSS) will refer people who don’t qualify for their services.  We’ll start looking for resources and find solutions.”
One solution might be senior employment opportunities.  David Hill, Executive Director of Pro-Action, a nonprofit community service organization (607/776-2125) oversees the One-Stop Workforce Center, connecting seniors with jobs in six counties, including Schuyler, Yates and Steuben.  “Currently, I believe we have opportunities because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Stimulus bill signed a year ago.”   Qualifying job applicants are placed in “locations consistent with their interests and future opportunities,” Hill says.
While not every senior can work, everyone has to eat, be safely housed and warm. “We do investigation for adult abuse and neglect –whether it’s self-neglect or caused by others,” says Sarah Matthews of Adult Services in Schuyler County.   “We try to make connections for people who might need it – health referrals, Office for the Aging, financial management for people unable to mange their finances, which is mostly those on Social Security or Social Security disability.  That’s one of the other hats we have here in Adult Services.
Advocates refer clients for food stamps, to Schuyler Outreach and other area food pantries, to community meal sites where nutritionally-balanced meals are served at low cost in a friendly environment.   Home-delivered meals are also available for those unable to get out.
Housing help is available in the form of subsidized housing for low-income seniors.  Home repair programs offer weatherization measures to help conserve heat, as well as ramping for disabled clients who need wheelchair access to their homes.  “The focus is on keeping people in their own home and independent,” says Fratarcangelo.  “Absolutely most are able to do this.”  
The Department of Social Services provides assessment of circumstances, and then makes recommendations and referrals.  Some people may require additional help with health care, such as information about prescription plans to make medications more affordable, occasional visits from health care aides; and respite services for family care-takers.
 Each county begins the winter with some Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) funds available.  While there’s rarely enough money and resources to fill every need, including this one, there may be emergency funding available to keep the heat from being turned off when personal funds dip too low to manage.
“This is a difficult time across the board,” says Matthews.  “The economic picture is poor whether you’re 18 or 65.  We see people wondering whether they can buy groceries or medication, whether they should heat their home or eat this month.  There are increases in numbers of people going to the food bank, people in need of food and emergency assistance. We don’t have the family bonds that some other cultures do, we’re pretty expendable.”  The DSS has also recently lost one worker due to budget cuts.
One way of bridging the gap is encouraging people to help each other. “The volunteering aspect is critical,” says Waite.  “We have programs we’re trying to get off the ground using volunteers, such as sending a respite person into the home.”  The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) helps recruit and place volunteers in a variety of programs.  For those helping with respite care, Waite notes, volunteering is not hands-on care but just having another able-bodied person in the home so the care-giver can take a break.  Other volunteer programs include regularly telephoning shut-ins for a friendly word, driving or accompanying people for shopping and doctors’ appointments. 

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