Happy 50th Anniversary to the Osceola Council on Aging (OCOA). I am thrilled to be at the helm of this amazing organization during such a memorable anniversary. We have had much success over the decades so it would be difficult to call attention to all our programs, so I want to highlight those which have achieved the greatest impact for residents of the Osceola County community. Our focus is to provide exemplary services enabling independence and self-sufficiency for seniors and disabled adults, though our organization could not have accomplished these successes without such an amazing team.

From our In-Home Care staff to Weatherization Program techs, social workers, and nurses, to our administration and case managers, these individuals work every day to support community residents. Without such a committed staff, the OCOA could not have attained our many successes over five decades.

Historically, the Council has provided services to Osceola for 50 years as of this month. Incepted in September 1971, the OCOA has become the largest provider of social service programs in Osceola, administering expansive initiatives to meet social demands.

From nutrition services to housing, weatherization projects, adult health day care and Community Action programs, the Council supports more than 2,200 residents per week (nearly 10,000 per month) with an annual investment into our community of more than $10 million.

The Council began as a simple senior service agency, housed in one room of the old Osceola County Courthouse, minimal staff, and a small team of volunteers. That small team moved to a remodeled vehicle inspection station owned by the Osceola County government. As needs to support the community increased, a facility was inevitable to meet demands. Eventually, more than 35 years later, the Barney E. Veal Center opened in July 2007 at 700 Generation Point in Kissimmee, right off U.S. Highway 192. The campus has been the Council’s headquarters for more than a decade.

Coincidentally, the OCOA began volunteer nutrition services in the late 1960’s when a small group of concerned volunteers wanted to support elderly friends and neighbors who were homebound. Those local volunteers created a home delivery meal service with the capacity to serve 25 seniors and disabled adults, daily, with food prepared by the St. Cloud Hospital. Once the Council incorporated as a private, non-profit agency, it integrated its meal delivery services and began the journey toward becoming a multi-service agency with comprehensive programs aimed at helping the elderly.

Eventually, the Council began delivering meals to homebound seniors as part of a food assistance outreach service. In 1975, we became a designated Meals on Wheels provider while offering congregate meal services through our Dining Club and implementation of our local Food Pantry. Presently, the OCOA supports more than 2,000 Osceola households, annually, with nutritional assistance services.

Presently, the Council receives more requests for nutrition services than any other program offered. serving 165,000 meals to 1,000 OCOA clients while distributing more than 650,000 pounds of food in 2019. During 2020, the Council delivered more than 440,000 meals to 2,500 clients and distributed 1.8 million pounds of food including home delivered meals and donations from our local Food Pantry. The pantry supports more than 2,000 families annually while providing food to seniors, disabled adults, and disadvantaged families.

Though many residents believe the Council only supports seniors, our scope of service extend to families through our Building Strong Families initiative, which provides services for low-income families and children who are at risk of homelessness. In 2019 alone, the OCOA provided emergency services such as case management, nutrition assistance, rent or mortgage assistance, utility assistance and weatherization/ home repair to 1,700 households, inclusive of 5,000 underprivileged families. In 2020 those numbers increased to more than 5,500 households and over 10,000 families. Our Weatherization Service programs are free of charge to qualifying, low income households. For more information, call 407-933-9523.

The OCOA had planned to host a 50th Anniversary Gala to celebrate this milestone, though due to the increase in COVID-19 diagnoses throughout our community, we have been required to reschedule the celebration for September 2022. We will host a virtual Golden Anniversary Brunch on Thursday, Oct. 7; for more information or to participate, go to “https:// osceolagenerations.org/ golden-anniversary-brunch/” \t “_blank” https://osceolagenerations. org/golden-anniversary-brunch/.

For more information about the OCOA’s mission, programs, and volunteer opportunities, or to connect our organization with Osceola County residents who might need our services, go to “http://www.osceola generations.org” www. osceolagenerations.org.

Wendy Ford-Coschignano is President/ CEO of the Osceola Council on Aging.

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

Published Wednesday, September 1, 2021