older americans month may 2022 logoMay has been observed as ‘Older Americans Month’ since 1963. The annual observance has become a time to celebrate the many contributions older Americans have made to enrich the lives of younger generations.

The developments by generations before us come in multiple attributes, whether it be creative advancements, contributions or philanthropic services while not forgetting those who have defended this great nation and enabled our freedoms of today.

As the president and CEO of Osceola County’s largest social services organization, the Osceola Council on Aging (OCOA), I am continually focused on how to best serve older Americans residing in Osceola County. One of our most successful programs is our Community Action Services initiative; a program designed to provide opportunities for self-sufficiency. What better time than Older Americans Month to discuss how our Community Action Services program positively impacts our local seniors.

Historically, the Community Action plan was created as a component of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” and from the advocacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Action Agencies are nonprofit, public groups funded by the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), a federal program allocating funds to combat poverty. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 created the network of agencies, traditionally, to serve low-income populations, state by state. True to history, Community Action remains committed to help families address poverty as demonstrated by the diversity of programs from education support, job training, weatherization assistance, and elder care programs. However, the programs have now encompassed Older Americans to sustain themselves when crisis occurs. Community Action

Programs are funded by multiple sources. One of those funding avenues is the state of Florida, who contracts with the OCOA to provide utility assistance for low-income residents, CSBG and weatherization services. Other support initiatives are provided by local funding awards from the city, county, private philanthropy, and even various utility providers.

Locally, our Community Action Service programs include:

  • Utility Assistance: Helping with energy costs has consistently been one of the top three needs in Osceola County. The OCOA has one of the most comprehensive utility assistance programs of any agency in the State of Florida, which includes: Low-income Home Energy Assistance; Emergency Home Energy Assistance for the Elderly; the KUA Good Neighbor Program; TOHO Assistance Program; the St. Cloud Utility Assistance Program and the Low-income Home Water Assistance Program
  • Building Strong Families: This program is designed to keep families from becoming homeless. The funding is used to provide rapid re-housing services to prevent homelessness through case management of emergency rent/mortgage and utility payments. Housing stability has been a consistent need in the Osceola community.
  • Food Pantries: OCOA now hosts food pantry locations in Kissimmee and in St. Cloud. The food pantries serve roughly 120-150 households per week, with drive-thru options implemented since the pandemic began.
  • Weatherization/Chore/ Helping Homebound Heroes: The OCOA’s Home Rehabilitation programs offer repair and maintenance to improve the safety of housing owned and occupied by elderly, disabled or low-income families.
  • Health Clinic: OCOA’s Health Clinic is comprised of volunteers and partnering healthcare providers to focus on prevention, education, specialist referrals, referrals to community social services, and case management to the underserved and uninsured residents in Osceola County.

“Unfortunately, as our senior population ages, their resources often diminish. Our Community Action Service programs provide invaluable support to the Osceola community,” said Warren Hougland, Senior Vice President of Community Action. “We are focused on expanding these initiatives while also expanding into surrounding communities as the need is consistently there.”

In summary, the Community Action programs are designed to empower older members of the community with case managed support services which allow them to live safer, healthier, comfortable, and more independent lives for as long as possible — a wonderfully positive focus as we celebrate Older Americans Month.

To see more guest columns by Wendy, go to https://osceolagenerations.org/councils-corner/

Published Tuesday, May 3, 2022