This year's Civic League meetings have dealt with topics close to home, with a series of local persons invited to describe the organizations they represent. Last month's presentation had to do with the Senior Wellness and Nutrition Program, whose chapters serve communities throughout the state and nation.
There were actually two speakers at this meeting. One was "hometown girl," Mrs. Gayle Patterson, who manages the Cattaraugus SWAN facility, housed in the Senior Building on South Street. She described the program as she sees it at the local level.
Her "boss," Barbara Woodarek, Nutrition Coordinator for the Cattaraugus County Department of Aging, expanded the story by explaining how the Cattaraugus and various other local branches fit into the county and state-wide picture.
According to Ms Woodarek, the SWAN program (formerly ECHO) was first established in 1972, with the Cattaraugus chapter arriving on the scene only a couple of years later. "Cattaraugus is one of the few communities with a dedicated building for the program," stated Woodarek. "In many places, it's run in a church or civic hall."
After Meals on Wheels started in 1978, it quickly grew into an integral part of the overall program. "We feel," said Woodarek, "that it has lived up to its aim of reducing hunger and food insecurity for persons confined to their homes."
Because the program supplies shut-ins with a healthy portion of their nutritional needs, she explained, they're often able to remain in their own homes longer than might otherwise be possible.
"Here in Cattaraugus County, we serve about 750 meals per day," said Woodarek, "but SWAN isn't simply about nutrition. There's also a lot of emphasis placed on such things as socialization, and disease prevention."
She said that the centers frequently furnish blood pressure checks, encourage walking, and even circulate Wii exercise games from one location to another to promote interest in other types of activity.
Every effort is made to run the centers in such a way that attendance is a relaxing, enjoyable experience, the belief being that this goes a long way toward improving quality of life for participants. "In the case of Cattaraugus," Woodarek added, "you're lucky to have Gayle. Also, the participation of the school is simply phenomenal, what with the music department bringing in instrumental and choral groups so frequently. It's so great, watching those young people interact with the seniors."
Funding for SWAN comes from almost every level of government, starting with federal, right on down through state, county and local.
"We like to encourage our diners to make a $2.00 contribution toward the cost of their meal," said Woodarek, "although there is no effort made to collect this money, and people know that they are welcome to eat, whether or not they can pay."
Woodarek said that even though the program boasts over 700 volunteers county-wide, there's always a need for more. "Anyone over the age of 16 is eligible," she said. "We need people both on site and in the 'wheels' end of it."
Woodarek praised Mrs. Patterson, saying, "Gayle is so good at the Cattaraugus branch. She builds cohesion and creates a group that wants to be together."
Taking the floor, Mrs. Patterson related some of her own feelings about a job that's really more than a job. "I'm a link in the chain," she said. "My part is making healthy meals and supplying the socialization we all enjoy so much. This job enables me to pay forward."
She explained that she truly enjoys her role in SWAN. "It's like having company in my house every day--but I don't have to clean up for them."
A primary responsibility for Mrs. Patterson is keeping foods out of the 'danger zone,' especially those being delivered. "But there've been lots of improvements," she said. "Hot tiles and ice blankets help us maintain proper temps more easily these days."
According to Patterson, there are mutual benefits for those delivering the meals and those partaking of them. "Our volunteers are our eyes and ears," she said. "They notice if one of our shut-ins is looking or acting differently. Often, warm and lasting friendships grow out these routine deliveries."
Civic League members were impressed with the presentations and plied the two with numerous questions before moving on to their business meeting. At that time, a motion was passed to raise yearly dues from $5.00 to $7.00, payable at the May luncheon meeting.