Support Program Helps Seniors Remain Independent

Senior citizens struggling to live on their own have a formidable ally in their corner.

Senior Support Program of the Tri-Valley offers senior citizens a wide variety of services to ensure they can live safely on their own while maintaining a robust social life.

"Our mission is to provide services and assistance to seniors that help them remain independent," Marlene Petersen, executive director, said. "We help to promote safety and well-being by providing different services. It helps them to preserve their dignity. Most of all, it improves the quality of their life."

The program was started in 1981 under the auspices of the Valley Community Health Center, now Axis Community Health. Senior support was spun off as its own nonprofit a decade ago and relocated to the Pleasanton Senior Center.

"We used to be the best-kept secret in the Tri-Valley," Petersen said with a laugh. The more high-profile location and word-of-mouth have helped the program grow to serve roughly 1,600 seniors a year in Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore and Sunol.

"We are pretty much a one-stop shop for senior services," she said. "We are the only agency out here providing direct senior services. Everything we do is for the senior 60 years or older."

The program offers 19 different programs ranging from friendly visits and social events to support groups and counselors who can help with daunting tasks.

"These programs have all been designed by basically the seniors telling us what their needs are," Petersen said. "Then we try to find funding to provide those services."

Funding comes from Alameda County, local cities, the federal government, multiple grants, Kaiser Permanente and individual donations.

"When we started in 1981, we started with a friendly visiting program," she said. "We have lots of wonderful volunteers in the community that go out and provide socialization."

That service expanded to include help from nonprofit groups (like Scouts and churches), local businesses and even large corporations.

"They'll help do yard work or house work, like if the house needs painting," she explained. "These groups make a big difference for us."

A more intensive service matches case managers with seniors to help them solve problems and gather any resources needed for support. At the other end of the spectrum, luncheons are offered three times a year for housebound seniors so that they can socialize.

"All of the programs we do help them remain independent, but with a better quality of life," Petersen noted.

The newest program, Stepping Out and Reconnecting (SOAR), offers an intensive 18-week session for seniors who are struggling with health issues or may be reluctant to leave their homes.

"It has been so successful," she said proudly. "It's exciting to see them socializing with each other. These are people who have been referred by families who don't know what to do anymore. Maybe they were using 911 a lot. A lot of them just pulled away from society. A lot of times it may have started with hearing loss or a little tremor. They just pull back and don't go out anymore."

The first group of SOAR seniors graduated from the program in late January and will now help mentor the next group of SOAR seniors.

"We nourish the body, the soul and the spirit," Petersen said. "All of the programs are to give them the nourishment they need to survive."

While senior support offers valuable services, the group itself can use a helping hand in the form of more volunteers, enthusiastic board members and support from local businesses.

"We can always use funding," she said. "So many of these programs are always on the edge. We need board members and more volunteers."

The benefits of being involved extend far beyond helping seniors.

"We're not sure who gets more out of the program, the seniors or us," Petersen said. "Success for us is many things. It's seeing someone smile who wasn't smiling before, seeing someone open up and share their life experiences. How we see our program is they're just extended family for us."

Learn more about Senior Support Program of the Tri-Valley and the many services it offers at . You'll also find information about how to volunteer or make donations.

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