Friday, January 25, 2008
A look at the Council on Aging
The Carlisle Council on Aging (COA), a department of the Town of Carlisle, is dedicated to serving senior citizens and assisting their families and friends with aging issues. In cooperation with other organizations, the COA serves both elders who are healthy and those with some degree of frailty. The COA is currently staffed by four part-time employees: Director Kathy Mull, Outreach Coordinator Angela Smith, Transportation Coordinator Carol Nathan and social worker Peter Cullinane. The staff is supported by an active COA board, many volunteers and the Friends of the Council on Aging.
Board offers ideas and guidance
The COA board currently consists of 11 members as well as several associate members. The mission of the board is "to continually improve the quality of life for the senior citizens living in Carlisle." Chairman Verna Gilbert has served on the board for seven years. "We are always assessing current programs and determining what new programs are needed," she said. "We try to reach out to people who we think may need help and provide them the services they need. By statute, we can't raise money for the COA. That's where the Friends of the Council on Aging comes in. They are the fundraising arm of the COA." The COA board and staff meet monthly to review reports, discuss upcoming programs, address senior issues and handle ongoing business. According to Gilbert, "We have a large board with several associate members because there is so much work to do."
COA Director Kathy Mull
Kathy Mull assumed the position of COA director in July of 2006. Mull, whose degree is in business management, began working in the field of elder services in 1988. She has served as director of the Westford Adult Day Program, then as outreach coordinator at the Stow COA. When the director of the Stow COA resigned, Mull took over as full-time director. Personal issues, including caring for her aging parents, forced Mull to resign from that position several years ago. When the part-time (19.5 hour/week) job in Carlisle was advertised in 2006, Mull returned to her elder services career. Recently, the town of Carlisle has increased the number of hours for the COA director to 30 hours per week.
Mull describes her work as mostly administrative. "My job has become mainly grant writing, budget preparation, and coordination with state and regional agencies." Mull also spends a good deal of time overseeing COA-sponsored programs which range from social activities such as bridge classes, book clubs and knitting groups to more health and safety related activities such as blood pressure clinics, hearing clinics, fitness classes and line dancing classes. The monthly newsletter produced by the COA boasts eight pages worth of activities for the month of January, including a variety of travel opportunities both local (JFK Library, Museum of Fine Arts) and distant (Prague/Vienna/Budapest, Britain/Ireland). The newsletter reminds seniors of health clinics and provides safety tips for seniors. "We do a lot of collaboration with Emerson Hospital and the Carlisle Board of Health. We work hard to keep seniors in their homes. We provide services so that they can stay in their homes for as long as possible. To do this, we work closely with our area service provider, Minuteman Senior Services, which is funded through the state." Through a variety of training classes and area meetings, Mull and Outreach Coordinator Angela Smith work with the COAs of surrounding communities to share ideas and open programs to residents of other towns when possible.
Outreach Coordinator Angela Smith
Outreach coordinator and Carlisle resident Angela Smith began work for the Carlisle COA in April of 2006. Smith had worked for 28 years as a customer service manager for Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard. Several years ago, while working toward a master's degree in Management and a Certificate in Healthcare Management from Cambridge College, Smith became familiar with local senior services. "One of my last classes there [Cambridge College] required me to make a proposal for a healthcare system for my own town. While working on it I met all the people in the town and the region who do elder services: the Board of Health, the Council on Aging, doctors, nurses, social workers. Everyone was interesting and caring. When this job came up, I resigned from my job and took it right away." Smith's job focuses on interpersonal work. She talks to Carlisle seniors about fuel assistance, tax assistance and many other issues of an individual nature. She also works with younger town residents who have questions about how to care for their aging parents. Smith enjoys her work with COA: "You're getting to help people. They are looking for resources, support and information and a lot of the time you can really help them. The people here are really great. I think the seniors in Carlisle are very bright, creative and interesting."
As of August, the COA office at the Town Hall has been reconfigured so that Mull and Smith have separate enclosed spaces within the COA office, allowing for more privacy when meeting with individuals. Mull will spend some time this year refining job descriptions for COA staff. "There is a tremendous amount of work to do here. I am hoping that we can better understand each job, reorganize slightly and perhaps make better use of volunteer time." As it stands, Mull and Smith work together to make sure that someone is in the office five days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Transportation Coordinator Carol Nathan
For the COA, Nathan is responsible for organizing both van service and "friendly drivers," volunteers who drive clients to appointments. "We try to keep volunteer commitment to one trip per month so it is not too overwhelming for anyone. It is a heartwarming, community-building thing. We have great volunteers — they're wonderful people."
As a result of Nathan's work, the Town of Carlisle will be receiving a credit of $10,492. (See story on page 5.)
Social worker Peter Cullinane
The newest member of the COA staff is social worker Peter Cullinane. Cullinane lives with his wife in Newton. He has a master's degree in social work from Boston University and has worked as a clinical social worker, administrator and human service advocate in a range of in-patient hospital and community programs serving adults with serious mental illnesses and individuals and families struggling with homelessness. "My recent work has been with elders at risk in the community, men and women over 60 who are rapidly becoming the largest segment of our population falling into poverty. I have worked as a protective services worker, responsible for receiving reports of alleged abuse and neglect of elders, providing immediate assistance when appropriate, conducting investigations and developing service plans with the consent the elder at risk."
Cullinane remembers having spent time as a child exploring the trails in Carlisle and going to Kimball's for ice cream. "I grew up in a community very similar to Carlisle, a small town —proud and independent, but now faced with a growing elder population in need of volunteer and professional services to help elders remain living in their own homes.
"The short time I have been working in Carlisle has been spent in getting to know the various community and volunteer services dedicated to serving elders and hearing what their needs are. I have attended some of the community events set up for elders, as a way of introducing myself and getting to meet elders and volunteers. I have met with the Board of Health staff to review the emergency response plan for the town, looking at the numbers and qualifications of social work and nursing personnel needed in the event of disaster. I will be meeting with COA staff to do ongoing risk assessment and consultation for those identified elders in need of mental health and other specialized services." Cullinane will work for six hours per week in Carlisle until the end of June. His salary is funded through a grant recently received from Northwest Health Alliance Community Health Network Area. The grant is shared between the Board of Health and the COA for their collaborative project "Community Initiative for a Healthy Carlisle." Cullinane will be in Carlisle on Mondays and Thursdays.
In general the salaries of COA staff members are funded by the town (except for the grant-funded social worker position and grant support for two hours per week of the outreach coordinator's salary.) Funds from four grants are used to help support programs, men's and women's breakfasts, luncheons, COA newsletter formatting and a bi-monthly podiatry clinic. The state also supplies funding for some COA programs and services. To determine the local allocation, the state uses a formula and local census data. According to Mull, "more than 900 Carlisle seniors qualify for COA programs, but because the state uses old census data, the state funds us for approximately 600. We make up the difference with grants and with the use of volunteers."
Smith emphasized, "Volunteers are our biggest need. We need friendly drivers for doctors and other scheduled appointments. Anyone who is interested should stop by the office and pick up an application or give me a call."
Mull notes, "This is very rewarding work. It's something I love. I've been doing it since 1988. Sometimes it can be a little frustrating — we don't have a senior center or a community center. But I feel good about the quality of what we do — meeting the needs of the seniors in Carlisle."
Carlisle residents who are interested in finding out more about the COA can stop by the Town Hall or call 1-978-371-2895. Copies of the COA newsletter are available in the Town Hall.
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