STRAIGHT TALK: Council on aging looks to the future

Wayne Miller, a World War II veteran who served in the Army, shares a story with a visitor at the Manistee Senior Center during an event to honor the Greatest Generation, a semi-annual program of the Manistee County Council on Aging. (File photo/News Advocate)

Wayne Miller, a World War II veteran who served in the Army, shares a story with a visitor at the Manistee Senior Center during an event to honor the Greatest Generation, a semi-annual program of the Manistee County Council on Aging. (File photo/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — The Manistee County Council on Aging (MCCOA) is planning for the future, using a newly published strategic plan that helps the nonprofit to set priorities and get things done.

The MCCOA Board of Directors began work on the 2014-2019 plan during early 2014, and finished it during fall 2014. The document was published recently, and is available for public viewing online and in print.

The plan begins with a mission statement, which reads: “The Manistee County Council on Aging serves the senior citizens of Manistee County by promoting quality of life and independence by addressing their unique needs and challenges utilizing a fiscally sound approach.”

More than 25 percent of Manistee County’s about 25,000 residents are over the age of 62, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Nationwide, about 16 percent of the population is over 62. For Michigan, it’s about 17 percent.

However, the MCCOA serves all those in the county who are 60 and older.

Goals in the plan include fiscal responsibility, improved programming and services, improved personnel and policies, advocacy and collaboration, and capital improvement.

The planning process began shortly after Robert Daniels became MCCOA board president. He’s been on the board for about two years, and became president in late 2013.

MNA: Why is it important to you to serve on this board?

DANIELS: Long story short, my first job after college was as an employee at the Manistee County Council on Aging, way back in 1976. I worked for them for about a year and a half, and then left Manistee to move on to bigger and better things.

I’ve always felt the need to give back. I was a boy scout when I was a kid, so I was a scout leader when I was an adult. I just like to try and give back.

When we moved back to Manistee in the spring 2013, I saw an ad in the News Advocate that they were looking for new MCCOA members. I sent an application in, and they accepted it.

I was on the board starting in June. When we had the elections in October, I was elected president.

MNA: When did the strategic planning process begin?

DANIELS: Shortly after I became president.

The board members that were there then were excellent firefighters. By that, I mean they were very good at dealing with trouble, and putting up with things. But there was no road map, there was no direction, and we didn’t have any firm sense of we did well. We weren’t even sure if what we were doing was correct. No one had spent any time on planning.

I had a strategic planning background for a number of years working for a very large federal government agency. I thought it was the thing to do, so we discussed it in January and February, and actually started the process in March 2014.

We brought in Tamara Buswinka, resource development director at the Alliance for Economic Success.

We completed this in fall 2014. And then, we wanted to do things like get a new logo, so we weren’t going to print anything until we had a new logo in place, which is why it took a little while to get copies out to the public.

MNA: Why is it important for MCCOA to have a strategic plan?

DANIELS: People don’t know what we have available, and what we do.

We’re making a very concerted effort to reach out to all the townships in the county, and every community and to try to get our services out to them.

Once we realized what we had, this plan is a very convenient way of presenting our services to the county.

We’re doing a much shorter brochure version of this that we’ll hand out like candy, basically.

We have a millage renewal coming up likely in March 2016. People need to know what we do if we expect them to vote for us. So this is our way to get our message out.

I don’t believe we should be spending tax dollars on advertising per say, but I believe that getting information out so that people know what’s available is valuable for users of our services.

We updated the web page, started a Facebook page, and now we’re doing this to have a mix of media for people to find out what it is we have available.

MNA: What is the most important thing in this plan?

DANIELS: I don’t know that I can pick any single element because it’s the whole picture; this is how we’re going to try to help the over 60 population of Manistee County.

Some people don’t need Meals on Wheels, some people would be in real trouble without it. Some people don’t need to take a bus to Tiger Stadium for socialization, but some people really miss that in their life. Maybe nobody needs a picnic on July 2 out at Stronach Township Hall, yet we’ll have several hundred people show up for that.

There’s this range of issues; there’s a lot of little stuff.

We have a toe-nail clinic once a month during which podiatrists’ assistants come in, and for a very nominal fee, trim toe nails. Believe me, if you’re older, trimming toe nails is a major pain in the butt. We also have a hearing aid clinic once a month, just little things like that are important.

I can’t say any one of those is the most important because they’re all important for different people for different reasons.

MNA: What are some changes that are coming through this plan?

DANIELS: We’re getting in front of things; we’re planning, we’re looking down the road.

We have big goals over the five years that this plan covers. We’re checking off stuff as we’re doing it, and moving on to other things.

We had to do a lot of changes to the way we delivered some of our services because it wasn’t efficient; it wasn’t a good use of tax dollars. This concerns the services that we gave in terms of having people clean houses, cutting grass, shoveling snow and stuff like that. We were spending approximately one-third of our revenue on supporting the four people who delivered these services, and almost every month we were servicing less than 50 people.

We changed that around. Now we’re serving more like 150 people a month, and we haven’t even hit two-thirds of the cost of what the old system was. We’re saving significant amounts of money, serving three times as many people.

I think we’ve had a grand total of three complaints about that change.

MNA: How is the MCCOA reaching out to the rest of the county?

DANIELS: That is a huge piece of our strategic plan.

Getting our financial house in order was most of the first year. Now, the priority is to get out to meet with every township to show them what we have to offer.

We want to reach out to the townships, and get programs out there — that’s our big goal for the summer. There were things years ago, and we need to rekindle that.

The rest of the townships in the county need to feel that they’re getting more from their tax dollars.

MNA: What did you find the MCCOA was already doing well?

DANIELS: Meals on Wheels is a separate entity that we contract with to deliver meals both at the senior center, and other congregate sites throughout the county and individual homes — that is going extremely well. We just renewed our contract with them. Manistee County has one of the biggest Meals on Wheels programs — there’s a crying need out there.

Then the things we do at the Manistee Senior Center: the party days, the picnic days, things like that are huge successes. Some people think that’s fluff, but if you’re 80 years old and living alone in your home, to get out and be with people your own age, and have some fun and kick your heels up a little bit, is just as important as getting your toe nails trimmed.

MNA: How can people get a copy of the strategic plan?

DANIELS: Call or stop by the senior center to get a printed copy. It will also be online soon, and there will be a link on the Facebook page.

MNA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

DANIELS: We have a passionate board, and a super passionate staff right now. We believe that people beyond 60 have a lot to give, and we want to help them keep on being part of the community and being active.

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Posted by Justine McGuire

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