© 2024 WEMU
Serving Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, MI
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Washtenaw United: Milan Seniors for Healthy Living helping locals age with grace

Milan Seniors for Healthy Living executive director MaryAnn Opal.
MaryAnn Opal
Milan Seniors for Healthy Living executive director MaryAnn Opal.


Raised in Milan but lived in the sunny south for the past several years. Returning to Milan to be by grandkids and family, MaryAnn offers a tremendous breadth of experience in senior services and management to shepherd the organization. Eager to serve the community, MaryAnn’s life motto is: “I will strive daily to be a person of Integrity, Cheerfulness and Energy.


Milan Seniors for Healthy Living


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to Washtenaw United. This is our weekly look at equity and opportunity in our community. I'm David Fair, and when we talk equity and opportunity, I don't know that we often include age and the elderly, at least not enough. As such, that's how we want to spend our Washtenaw United time today. Our guest is MaryAnn Opal, and she serves as executive director of Milan Seniors for Healthy Living. And thank you so much for joining me today. MaryAnn. I appreciate it.

MaryAnn Opal: Thank you for having me.

David Fair: Would I be on track by saying that the issue of aging is an underserved part of our conversation on equity?

MaryAnn Opal: Very much so. I think the senior population is underserved in a lot of areas, but definitely in equity.

David Fair: So, you have characterized the mission of the organization as helping seniors in and around Milan to age gracefully. In that context, what does gracefully mean to you?

MaryAnn Opal: We want them to live their golden years being vibrant and happy and energized and not to have those golden years be years of depression and isolation. So, we've prepared several different options for seniors. We have transportation for them, Meals on Wheels, an activity center, and then any of the needs that we cannot address, we have our resource advocacy who addresses those needs with them, and those services are free of charge. Some of them require a small donation, but it's not mandatory.

David Fair: You mentioned the senior activity center. Obviously, when we talk about the elderly, there is a vast array of different needs and different abilities. So, what is offered through the Milan Senior Activity Center that would kind of cover that rainbow?

MaryAnn Opal: We consider ourselves somewhat unique. We start our senior programs at 50-plus. A lot of seniors start at 60, but we want to capture those who are 50-plus to get them involved in senior services early on, and then they don't come to a crisis point in their life when they need those services that they're reaching out for them at that point. So, our activity is that we have a wide variety. And those activities, they don't just stop at things like bingo and crafts and adult coloring. They go into things like yoga and meditation, mindfulness, cardio-drumming. We have a lot of educational speakers in to educate our seniors.

David Fair: Yes, I wanted to bring that up. You offer something called Aging and action coaching. What does that look like?

MaryAnn Opal: Aging and Action is a brand new program to us. It is completely grant-covered, and we're extremely thankful for that. There are many services that we offer, like I mentioned, transportation, Meals on Wheels, activities, we can get people to and from their doctor's appointments, we can deliver meals to those who are homebound. But there are some services that we cannot provide. But our lead resource person, who is Beverly Robinson, she's been with our organization for about seven years. She is able to connect them to resources that can meet their needs that we cannot meet. So, we feel like we've covered the whole gamut because we can either meet their needs or connect them with someone that can meet their needs.

David Fair: We're talking with MaryAnn Opal on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. MaryAnn serves as executive director of Milan Seniors for Healthy Living. And as an executive director. MaryAnn, you obviously have your hands full with administrative duties. I'm curious as to whether you get the opportunity to engage with some of your elderly clients yourself.

MaryAnn Opal: Of course I do. I would not be in this position if I couldn't engage with our members. Seniors are my passion. They always have been. I've worked with seniors since my very first job in high school. I love them--their smiles, their tears. There's just so many stories behind them. So, I do teach a couple of the classes myself, just so that I can have interaction with the seniors. But I also have my office strategically placed, so that, as they're coming in, I can greet them. I can enter into conversation if they want to tell me about something that's happened in their life. I'm right there with an open door to interact with them. It's a very important and very precious part of my job.

David Fair: What do you get from it?

MaryAnn Opal: That's a great question. I get a lot of satisfaction. I feel like I can add a burst of sunshine to their lives. And I love that. If they're having an off-day, I can offer them a little grace and a lot of smiles. I just I love spending time with them. It fulfills me, and it also helps them.

David Fair: Like many other areas of the service sector, funding for elder care and aging services fails to match what is actually needed. How reliant is the organization on volunteers who have the same sort of life view of caring for our seniors as you do?

MaryAnn Opal: Yes, we are a nonprofit organization, so we raise 100% of our funds, and volunteers are an extremely important part of our program. We have very, very dedicated volunteers. We have folks who come in every day, Monday through Friday, and deliver meals to homebound seniors. We have folks who come in and lead activities, such as yoga, painting, and those folks do that free of charge to us, so that we don't have to charge our seniors for the services. So, volunteers are a huge part of our organization, and we're extremely grateful for them.

David Fair: Once again, you're listening to Washtenaw United on 89 one WEMU, and we are talking with Milan Seniors for Healthy Living executive director MaryAnn Opal. I'm glad you mentioned that term: homebound seniors, MaryAnn. The idea of aging in place has been growing more and more popular, and, for many, being able to live out their last years at home is far more preferable than other options. How is the nature of how we deal with aging in place changing?

MaryAnn Opal: Aging in place. Really, it's been a process, and we've been growing into that. But more and more seniors are choosing to age in place, and their family members are choosing to have them age in place. The services that we offer are basically offered, so that they can stay in their own homes as long as possible. So, we provide the meals for them. We provide the transportation for them. We provide social activities, so they're not isolated. So, we provide a lot of foundational structure, so that they can age in place.

David Fair: And I would imagine that, for some who are having Meals on Wheels deliver their food on a daily or weekly basis, sometimes that's one of the few opportunities at interacting with other human beings. How important is socialization in successful aging in place?

MaryAnn Opal: Oh, my! Socialization is probably one of the key factors to aging in place. We think of people's medical needs, their physical needs, and that is very important. But, seniors who live in isolation have a much harder time than those who are socialized. So, that is one of our big focus areas is to keep our seniors in the greater Milan area socialized. And, along those lines, we do have a café. So, we deliver Meals on Wheels to the homebound seniors, but we have a café right here at our activity center that they can come in and have lunch daily with other seniors. And then, of course, we provide activities on both sides of the lunch hour and throughout the day.

David Fair: As our time together winds down, I do have a final question for you. I mentioned that we too often fail to include the aging and elder care in our discussions of equity in our community. So, as we conclude our conversation today, what would you like all of us to walk away with thinking about when it comes to our elderly?

MaryAnn Opal: There's one thing that comes to mind, and I actually hear elderly folks say this, and that is they feel like they're treated as if they're invisible. And one of my goals is to get people to understand but also to let the seniors understand that they are not invisible, that they're a very, very important part of our society. Their wisdom is amazing. Their stories are amazing. And they are not invisible. And we need to learn to treat them as such and just show them a lot of love and grace and patience as they do age.

David Fair: Certainly, those are words to the wise, and I thank you for making time for us today, MaryAnn. I appreciate it.

MaryAnn Opal: Thank you very much. I appreciate your time. And I appreciate the opportunity.

David Fair: That is MaryAnn Opal. She is executive director of Milan Seniors for Healthy Living and has been our guest on Washtenaw United. For more information on services for the aging and her organization in specific, visit our Web site at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


Most recently, Milan Seniors for Healthy Living has received a $5,000 award from the 2024 cycle of United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Opportunity Fund—a resource for local organizations and groups whose efforts address poverty, racism and trauma: root causes of systemic oppression that hold opportunity at bay for all people in Washtenaw County.

Milan Seniors for Healthy Living used their investment towards an executive director institutional knowledge and transition transfer, in support of their organization’s mission.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Related Content
  • We often say that everyone should have equal opportunity. America has yet to achieve that goal. Education is vitally important, and the manner in which the curriculum is approached at Ypsilanti’s ACCE High School is aimed at preparing students for the societal inequities they’ll face and building a population of citizens that can move needed change forward. Find out more about the innovative approach to education in the conversation WEMU's David Fair had with ACCE High School Culture and Climate Coach, Lauren Fardig-Diop.
  • One in four adults in the United States experience transportation insecurity, according to a University of Michigan study. Finding affordable and accessible public transportation can be difficult particularly impacting communities of color. The Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan is working to address these issues, and among the programs is the D2A2 bus service. The pilot program connects Ann Arbor and Detroit with hourly service weekdays and limited service on weekends. Is it working? Will the program become permanent? WEMU's David Fair finds out in a conversation with the Authority’s program manager, Ben Stupka.
  • As of Sunday, October 1st, the United Way of Washtenaw County is no more. A previously announced merger rolls the community services support agency's efforts into the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, which is based out of Detroit. However, the United Way will keep an office in Ann Arbor, and the expectation is that staff and funding in Washtenaw County will be expanded. WEMU's David Fair discussed the merger and its anticipated impacts on the community with senior director of collective impact, Bridget Herrmann.