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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti Senior Center helping prepare for aging boom


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's's Feature Article: From millage to intergenerational programs, Ypsi organizations prepare for coming senior boom

Ypsilanti Senior Center

Say Yes to Seniors


Rylee Barnsdale: You are listening to 89 one WEMU. The Alliance for Lifetime Income has denoted 2024 as the peak 65 zone, where a record 4 million Americans will turn 65 throughout the year, with over 11,000 each day. Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels leadership has noted that, by 2030, a mere six years away, 1 in 4 Michigan residents will be 60 years old, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation has found that, by 2040, the population of seniors living in poverty in Washtenaw County will more than double. So, what is Ypsi doing to prepare for this historic demographic shift and to protect our community's seniors? I'm Rylee Barnsdale with On the Ground Ypsi. Organizations across Ypsi are hoping they can help our community seniors feel secure as they age. Alongside Ypsi Meals on Wheels and Washtenaw Optimal Wellness in this endeavor is the Ypsilanti Senior Center, and I have center director Monica Prince on the phone today to chat about what this senior boom means for Ypsi's community and what the center is doing to support seniors in this rather unique time. Hi, Monica. How are you?

Monica Prince: Hi. Thank you very much for letting me talk here because I love talking about this issue.

Rylee Barnsdale: In just six years, there will be more seniors in Washtenaw County than there will be kids under 18 years old. Is that right?

Monica Prince: Yes, that is true. We're going to have a boom here. It's time that we start looking at doing something about it. A lot of agencies really had a difficult time during COVID, but we were able to get a lot of support. Now that that time is over, even though we are still in medium level of COVID in Washtenaw County, all that funding has gone away. And there's a group called Say Yes to Seniors that has been trying to get a millage on the county ballot to support senior services. And I feel like that's a huge thing that has to happen. We have to realize that everything's going to grow, and the older adults coming in in the next few years are going to be in a different level than others, but they're still going to need as much help as possible. A big thing that happens here at the Senior Center is to get people in to combat social isolation, and one way we're doing that is by having more intergenerational activities where we have older adults, but we also have kids coming in that do things with the seniors. It's a cooperative thing that they work together. You know, the kids are in the same boat and that they're socially isolated. And in fact, the attorney general last year put out a statement that it's at a crisis in the United States. And as our older adults get older, it's more and more a problem--seniors that are living solely on their Social Security and there's not enough housing to provide for that low income. There's food insecurity at the center. For one thing, we provide a lunch every day, Monday through Friday. And, at this point, we're able to accommodate the people that need it. And I know Meals on Wheels is growing like crazy with their meals, but there's more than that. You know, they need sometimes assistance to get to a grocery store, and we're trying to figure out how to do that and how to coordinate all those things. And the county doesn't have coordination within the county that the senior services all act as silos. And we've tried to bring things together, but it's not a formalized thing, and it would just be so much nicer to be able to call one number and get whatever we need.

Rylee Barnsdale: I'm sure.

Monica Prince: Here at the Senior Center, if you call to find out where you can get a ride, all we can do is say, "Well, try this or try this number," or we can do a number of recommendations, but we can't pinpoint exactly where the people need to get the help they need.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm talking with Monica Prince, director of the Ypsilanti Senior Center. And I know that, even being able to do those coordination efforts, in addition to the activities and the events and other programming you do at the center, a lot of that comes down to having access to consistent funding. And you mentioned, through COVID, you had some assistance through programs like the American Rescue Act. Now you're running out of those funds or do not have access to those funds anymore? Are you looking at fundraisers? Are you looking at help from the county or from the city? What does that look like for you guys?

Monica Prince: We're in sort of a unique situation because, in 2003, the city was unable to support the Senior Center anymore, and it was actually going to be closed. And the city closed their parks and rec department. Well, it put us in a situation that a lot of the neighborhoods said, "We really don't want a closed building right there in the park, and we don't want services to end for seniors." And so, a group of citizens got together, became a 501c3, and started getting grants. And that's when I came in. So, I've been here for 18 years now.

Rylee Barnsdale: Oh wow!

Monica Prince: And, basically, one of my jobs is to find money to pay for my job and all the other stuff. But we get a small stipend from the city to basically help with utilities. And we have an MOU with the city that we are able to use the building and rent the building for other events for free. So, people can rent the building, and that money goes into our income. But, during the week, we basically run on grants and donations, and we have fundraisers. We have drives where we've just recently had an end of the year drive, where we've collected about $3000--a little over $3,000--from people in the area, and those really help. But, other than that, we're just writing lots of grants these days. And the hard thing about a grant is it can be really great for one year or two years. Sometimes, actually, we're just on a third year of a grant, but then, it's like you have to start all over again and find the funding. You know, if you've hired somebody, then you have to find funding.

Rylee Barnsdale: It's that consistency piece.

Monica Prince: Yeah.

Rylee Barnsdale: Right. It's that consistency piece that you're trying to secure.

Monica Prince: Yes. So, it's always difficult, and we're always trying to stay one step ahead, it seems like.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm talking with Monica Prince, director of the Ypsilanti Senior Center. And, Monica, you mentioned the Say Yes to Seniors program. And I understand that you, the staff at the center, and a number of other organizations and individuals have formed this Commission on Aging to support this millage that you mentioned to provide money for more services throughout the county and not just Ypsi. Can you talk a little bit about what that proposal looks like, and maybe when we could, theoretically, see that millage on a ballot?

Monica Prince: That's a good question. We're the Say Yes to Seniors Coalition. There is a Commission on Aging, which was approved by the county commissioners two years ago. And they're looking at everything also and giving advice to the commissioners. But we are just an ad hoc group that came together a little over five years ago. It was a bunch of people from different agencies, different senior centers, Meals on Wheels from various parts of the county, even Jewish Family Services and Catholic Social Services are part of it. And we've all started looking at how we could get some consistent money. What we decided to do was go for a millage. Well, the county commissioners, at that point, didn't want to put anything on the ballot. So, they've been sort of kicking it down the road a little bit. But we're actually going to start having some town hall meetings and let the public know that this is going on that we've been trying to get services for them and some consistent money. I don't remember the statistics, but I know we were asking for a point-five millage, and it's not going to solve every problem internally by any means, but it will help us to get our feet on the ground and can keep going with what we need.

Rylee Barnsdale: If there are any folks listening who maybe are passionate about aiding our senior community here in Ypsi or maybe they just want to get involved with the senior center, where can they learn more about upcoming events and volunteer opportunities?

Monica Prince: Well, we do have a website, which is Ypsi Senior Center dot org.

Rylee Barnsdale: Well, Monica, maybe in the next few months, we'll be chatting again about how things are progressing for Say Yes to Seniors. But, in the meantime, I'd like to say thank you so much for chatting with me today.

Monica Prince: Well, thanks for having me.

Rylee Barnsdale: For more information on today's topic and links to the full article, visit our website at WEMU dot org. On the Ground Ypsi is brought to you in partnership with Concentrate Media. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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