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Getting to know your neighbor: exploring SCENe from the inside

SPRINGVILLE — The Springville-Concord Elder Network has come a long way, since it formed in response to a quality of life survey in 2008, according to director Virginia Krebs. Since the town of Concord and the village of Springville has no department of senior services, SCENe fills that gap and more, with programming, advocacy and resources for both local seniors and caregivers who seek support.

Originally, SCENe was established as a taskforce with a stated effort to get a senior living facility built in Concord, but Krebs and her cohorts quickly realized there were other needs, as well.

“We identified what’s [available], what’s missing and how we might fill some of those gaps,” she said. “We established our goals and objectives and got to work. We’ve come a long way.”

According to statistical projections conducted by the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research, Western New York’s 65 and older population is projected to increase 26 percent by 2030, with its frail-elder populations and those 85 and older expected to increase by 36 percent. Additionally, there is an expected 11 percent population decline in Western New York over that same time period, resulting in a greater proportion of elderly residents.

With that in mind, SCENe’s mission is to “recognize that older adults are a vital resource ... help people age with dignity and independence in their own community.”

The most popular segment of SCENe’s work in the community is the programs, which Krebs said are “for the people, by the people.”

The programming SCENe offers is determined by feedback from the community and new groups often begin when locals approach SCENe with an idea, which is how the gardening club started, according to Krebs.

“When a person comes forward, we can offer support and encouragement, help them do something that would be more difficult alone,” Krebs said.

Jackie Shaw, SCENe programming coordinator, has a full docket of events and groups, including a focus on wellness.

“Wellness is very important,” Krebs said. “We put a focus on falls and staying healthy. Diabetes is a huge concern, in our community. We emphasize chronic disease management.” SCENe is supported by the Healthy Community Alliance Inc. and the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York, which helps the organization offer workshops and classes to help local seniors get and stay healthy.

Many of SCENe’s efforts have grown out of the realization that seniors are all different, and want a variety of what Krebs called “a la carte options.

“Not everyone wants to play bingo. Not everyone wants to go to the casino,” she said. “Seniors run the gamut from 50-100 [years old] and their needs and desires also run the gamut.”

Members of the Baby Boomer generation, for example, are what Krebs has dubbed “natural activists.

“We grew up in a time of change and are not afraid of change. Organizations providing services [for seniors] need to be aware of that dynamic.”

In order to provide those services, SCENe works with a wide variety of partners.

“We do nothing by ourselves,” Krebs noted. “We partner with anyone and everyone.”

One of those collaborators is the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, which SCENe has recently begun working with to gain exposure beyond the Springville and Concord area.

“We’ve been made an [RSVP] authorized site and, in our own way, we’re stimulating the economy [by] bringing people into our area for our programs. They come to a talk and afterward, want to know where to have lunch,” Krebs explained.

“We’re trying to run as a friendly gathering place.”

SCENe is located at 64 East Main St., in space it has been given by Love In The Name of Christ. The Trading Post Community Care Center also works with SCENe for family needs, and SCENe is supported by the town of Concord, the Springville Center for the Arts, WSPQ Radio, Concord-Springville Senior Citizens, the Springville Volunteer Fire Company, Concord Nutritional Site, People Inc., American Assocation of Retired Persons, the Red Cross, Erie County Senior Services and others.

“We do everything in tandem,” Krebs said. “Funding and sustainability is always an issue. You can accomplish so much more in partnership.”

The organization is run by a core group of about 24 volunteers, although the director said that others pitch in, during larger events.

Another one of SCENe’s most important efforts, according to Krebs, is the caregiver support network, which offers support and fellowship to caregivers in every circumstance.

The director noted that sometimes, caregivers don’t even realize they fall under that category, especially if their parents do not live with them.

“A lot of people are hesitant to come forward who could really use our support,” Krebs said.

SCENe does not limit its caregiver support to those caring for elder parents either, but to elders caring for grandchildren, as well, which Krebs said is a growing demographic.

“Family dynamics are changing dramatically,” she said. “And there’s a lot of stresses on caregivers and within the family, when someone needs care. It can affect the parent-to-child dynamic, sibling-to-sibling. And when it’s your spouse who needs care, that’s a whole different story. It can be incredibly lonely. We have the knowledge [caregivers] need.”

The organization also acts as a referral agency to resources outside of its own programming. Krebs said that SCENe can refer locals to New York Connects, Erie County’s hotline for assistance.

“We always get a person to talk to,” she said. “It’s not an answering service. We can get [people who need assistance] in touch with people in the know.”

Another element of SCENe’s threefold mission is advocacy, or what Krebs described as “getting in front of people and saying hey, we’re here, we have a lot to offer and want to be engaged in the community.

“Don’t put us on a shelf. People never feel old,” she continued. “Inside, you’re always you.”

She said that seniors, especially the boomer generation, are an “untapped resource” for the community, both as workers who are available for employment and a funding source.

“It used to be, you grew up, got married, went to work, raised kids and then you died,” she said. “Now, you grow up, go to work, raise kids while working, retire and go back to work. A lot of people are retired and looking for something to do.”

She said that SCENe advocates for seniors who are doing just that, but also for seniors who feel as though they do not have a voice, themselves.

“The idea that seniors aren’t important to the economy is wrong,” she said. “We’re trying to change the idea that seniors are alone and needy.”

Krebs herself is very active, in working to get both the local and federal government to pass legislation, such as the Older Americans Act, to help seniors.

“I go to every place I can to [gather] information,” she said.

Recently, Krebs was a presenter at the New York Conference on Aging, speaking about rural health and resources. She reported that SCENe is a model for other communities that also lack the social services that southern Western New York is without, and that she continues to advocate to get those services put in place.

“We need support,” she said. “People are leaving our area for senior services and it’s not the people who don’t have the means to leave. It’s the people who do – and they’re taking their pocketbooks with them.”

She said that the lack of public transportation is one issue, especially for younger seniors who “are not going to be happy with that lack of independence.

“We are a regional community [in Springville and Concord],” she said. “People come here for shopping, for services. But we’re also cut off, without having any metro or public transportation.”

Right now, Krebs and SCENe are working to change that, as well as advocating for a senior center that would give local seniors a place to gather and form the inter-generational bonds that the organization considers essential.

“Seniors need their space, but they don’t want to be isolated,” she said. “It’s hard to function and grow, without that space [to gather].”

Today, SCENe has a long list of goals and objectives, including advocating for a town of Concord senior services coordinator and an associated senior services department, building an elder-friendly community and continuing to partner with educational, health and cultural organizations to make it all happen.

For more information about SCENe’s variety of programs and initiatives, call 592-7599.

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