by Mira Reverente
“If you have a question about seniors, we have the answer,” is the Senior Concerns, based in Thousand Oaks.
This non-profit group has dedicated itself to serving seniors from Simi Valley to Calabasas, giving them a wide array of care options, programs and resources since 1975.
At the helm is Andrea Gallagher, president of the organization and a Conejo Valley resident herself. Energetic and articulate, Gallagher is passionate about the group’s mission–guiding seniors with decision-making and providing care options, among others.
Gallagher’s personal connection to seniors started when she was still commuting and working in a market research firm in Chicago. “My neighbors Fred and Hildy, who had no family nearby, needed assistance with their affairs and then hospice care later on,” she said. “My husband and I found ourselves getting more and more involved in their care and that’s how I found my calling.”
Gallagher soon joined the Senior Concerns board in 2006. In 2012, she was asked to join the non-profit as its president, becoming a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and an expert on everything senior-related, from life planning to positive aging.
The adult day program is the organization’s main focus. For seniors with mild cognitive difficulties, about 75 of them come to the site on a daily basis, participating in social and therapeutic activities.
There are different levels of care in the program, according to Gallagher. Volunteers like Ernie Zornizer and Sheila Smith, both Thousand Oaks residents, provide much-needed support to staff, respite for caregivers and stimulation to seniors.
“We help with whatever they need but primarily arts and crafts on Fridays,” said Zornizer, who retired from his electrical contracting business 12 years ago. “I also love helping out with the annual events like Ultimate Dining and the Love Run.”
Smith, also retired like Zornizer, finds immense pleasure in being engaged with the day program participants. “I love being behind-the-scenes and just helping,” she said. “It’s my favorite place in the world.”
Another one of Senior Concerns’ valuable service to the community is Meals On Wheels. Volunteers deliver more than 35,000 meals annually to homebound seniors in the Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park areas. “Any senior can apply to have meals delivered. We don’t turn anyone away,” said Gallagher.
Over 100 volunteers deliver the hot and nutritious meals seven days a week, except on Christmas.
Susan Goldberg recalls how she got involved as a volunteer driver. “They needed substitute drivers and I really wanted to help because my elderly mom, who lives in Minnesota, gets helped in a similar way,” she said.
The Newbury Park resident is assigned to a route familiar to her, delivering anywhere from four to nine meals one day a week. It’s more than meal delivery for her and the seniors along her route. “Sometimes, I’m the seniors’ only human contact so I’ll chat and stay for a bit,” she said. “They’re always happy to see me and very thankful for the visit.”
To benefit Meals On Wheels, Senior Concerns puts up the Love Run, a 5K and a 10K in Westlake Village. Putting the fee into perspective, Gallagher said, “The $35 race entry covers six meals for seniors.”
Approximately 1,700 locals and out-of-towners run or walk the race, drawn to the flat and fast course around Westlake and the free pancake breakfast courtesy of the Kiwanis Club of Thousand Oaks.
Aside from the adult day program and Meals On Wheels, Senior Concerns also hosts caregiver support groups, legal and financial services help for seniors and care management services.
Funding comes from grants, donations, program fees and fundraisers like the Love Run, the Bargain Boutique & Thrift Shops and the Ultimate Dining Experience in the fall.
Asked what motivates them to donate their time so generously to Senior Concerns, Zornizer said, “I have deep feelings for people with that kind of need. Giving is definitely better than receiving.”
Added Goldberg, “It’s about leaving this world a better place than you found it.”