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Commissioners recognize Older Americans Month; OK requests from Village of Greenfield, HCSO

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Highland County commissioners recognized May 2023 as Older Americans Month during their Wednesday, May 10 meeting. Pictured (l-r) are commissioners David Daniels and Brad Roades; Shirley Foster, Shirley McKenzie, Juanita Kelley, Sue Pitzer and Mechell Karnes of the Highland County Senior Citizens Center; Jenni Lewis of the Area Agency on Aging District 7; Jim Luman of the Highland County Senior Citizens Center; and commissioner Terry Britton. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

Highland County commissioners Terry Britton, David Daniels and Brad Roades recognized May 2023 as Older Americans Month during their Wednesday, May 10 meeting, issuing a proclamation and meeting with representatives of the Area Agency on Aging District 7 and the Highland County Senior Citizens Center.

Accepting the proclamation were Jenni Lewis, AAA7 Director of Community Outreach and Training; Mechell Karnes, Highland County Senior Citizens Center Executive Director; and several Senior Center members, Shirley Foster, Juanita Kelley, Jim Luman, Shirley McKenzie and Sue Pitzer.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living, this year’s Older Americans Month “theme is Aging Unbound, which offers an opportunity to explore diverse aging experiences and discuss how communities can combat stereotypes … promoting flexible thinking about aging and how we all benefit when older adults remain engaged, independent and included.”

Both the AAA7 and Senior Center are dedicated to doing just that, as Lewis and Karnes discussed recent and upcoming events and activities for both organizations.

According to their website, AAA7 “administers programs for the elderly funded by the state and federal governments. Federal funds under the Older Americans Act and the Health Care Financing Administration, as well as all state funds, are received through the Ohio Department of Aging. The Agency contracts with agencies and then channels funds through this network of service providers. These agency providers include senior centers, community action agencies, home health agencies, health departments, etc.” The following counties are served by District 7: Adams, Brown, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Lawrence, Pike, Ross, Scioto and Vinton.

“We basically are providing services to keep folks in their home, giving them the option to do that if they want to,” Lewis told commissioners. “If someone's not eligible for our programs, we work very hard to try to help them find resources in the community to keep them at home. We help answer questions about Medicare and help caregivers with resources to help them, too.”

For 2022, Lewis said, 613 Highland County individuals received services from AAA7.

“We’re happy to be here and serving folks in your community,” she said.

Lewis gave an overview of several of the AAA7’s programs, beginning with the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. The program is open to individuals 60 and older meeting income eligibility requirements.

“It’s a special program where seniors who are eligible can receive $50 in vouchers to use with participating farmers at farmers’ markets to get fresh fruits and vegetables,” Lewis said. “It's a really great program for individuals who are eligible. It’s a win-win. You're supporting farmers in the community, as well as seniors.”

In addition to welcoming seniors to take advantage of this opportunity, Lewis said they are “in need of a lot more farmers” to participate. The program is open to individuals selling “produce at farmers’ markets, roadside stands or farm stands,” according to the AAA7 website.

“If you know any farmers who sell vegetables, fruits, things like that, please have them reach out to us,” Lewis told commissioners. “What they do is they partner with us, and then they're a part of that program.

“There's a whole system that they turn in those vouchers so that they can they can make good on that as well.”

Britton said that Hillsboro has a “pretty good farmers’ market” and that he would work to get a list of vendors for Lewis. Daniels also suggested that she could talk to individuals in the Amish and Mennonite communities who operate produce stands around the county.

Along with that ongoing program, Lewis said AAA7 is also in the planning stages of a new vaccine outreach program to help raise awareness and education for COVID-19, flu, shingles and pneumonia vaccines.

“We just received notification from our national association that we received a vaccine grant, to expand opportunities, education outreach, for vaccines,” she said. “You’ll be seeing a lot more information from us on those types of education.

“We’re working out the particulars of the plan of what we're going to do, but you might see some more information about that with us.”

Lewis also pointed out that in addition to resources for seniors, the AAA7 also works to assist caregivers — both those providing care for seniors, or in some cases, seniors providing care for younger ones, such as grandchildren.

“Sometimes it's hard for them to get out to caregiver support groups, but there's an 24/7 online portal that we have,” Lewis said. “They can hop on there. There's videos, tip sheets, all kinds of great things for caregivers.”

Lewis encouraged commissioners to refer individuals to the AAA7 if they need assistance.

“We're always here as a resource for you,” Lewis said. “If you have folks coming up asking you questions about anything that we can provide or just services in their community, know that they can reach out to us. We’ll do our best to help them find those resources.”

Karnes shared copies of the Senior Center’s quarterly newsletter and gave updates on different programs. She said they recently completed a “big fundraiser,” with the return of popular Elvis Presley tribute artist Tyler Christopher. The concert on March 25 yielded a profit of over $10,000 for the center.

Another fundraiser was held Tuesday, May 9 at Big Ernie’s Pizza, and Karnes said they had a good turnout for the event, where a portion of all sales was donated to the center.

Other recent events included an Easter egg hunt, a safety training day and various services, including free tax preparation by the AARP and visits from the Alzheimer’s Association and the Highland County Health Department.

“The Health Department will provide free blood sugar checks and different types of tests, like kidney function tests, at the Center,” Karnes said.

Karnes also gave an update on the Center’s home-delivered meals program, for which the commission dedicated $10,000 of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds last year to help offset rising food and fuel costs.

“We're very excited about that,” Karnes said. “You guys helped us out with that program. Last year, we were able to purchase new transit through local grants, because our other vehicles were just ready to kick the bucket. They weren’t really roadworthy. We’re very happy to expand that program.”

The home-delivered meals program is open to private-pay clients as well as those in the AAA7’s PASSPORT program, which is “designed to keep older adults at home or to help them return home after a nursing facility placement.”

“We do an in-house lunch for our members, also, through the week,” Karnes added. “I think that we have a great program. Our members here really enjoy coming to the Senior Center.”

Karnes invited the center’s members to comment as well. McKenzie summed it up briefly, saying, “I love it.”

“We’re always busy, and it's good to socialize with other people our age,” Foster said. “I started coming after my husband passed away, so it's been wonderful for me.”

Pitzer said that she has been visiting the center for 23 years.

“I love working with Mechell and volunteering for whatever she needs me for,” she said.

“Our members are also great, hard workers,” Karnes said. “They love their center, and it’s definitely evident. We work hard and we play hard, I guess you could say.”

For anyone interested in joining the Center, Karnes said, options include a standard membership for ages 50-89 for $20/year; a free “lifetime membership” for those 90 and older; or an associate membership for individuals ages 21-49 for $25/year.

“Mostly those people just joined to support the center — they’re not necessarily able to participate — but sometimes people have jobs where if it rains, they can’t do their construction job that day, and they come in and shoot a game of pool with their grandpa or dad or whoever,” Karnes said. “It's really neat to see people at the center all interacting, smiling, having a great time.”

Memberships also include access to the center’s gym, which features hydraulic equipment and rowing machines, Karnes said.

Some of their ongoing activities include chair volleyball, Bunco, bingo, euchre, other card games, billiards, cornhole and art groups. Britton said he has participated in the chair volleyball before, but “they work on you quite a bit.”

“The trash talk is really fun,” Karnes said. “That’s a really popular activity. Any day that we’re there, they’re playing chair volleyball at 10 o’clock on the dot.”

“And we do a lot of hooping and hollering,” Kelley added.

Pitzer also invited commissioners to check out their line dancing lessons on Friday evenings.

“I’ll have to put my boots on,” Daniels said.

After hearing from all those in attendance, Britton read the proclamation recognizing Older Americans Month and encouraging “every resident to celebrate our older citizens, help to create an inclusive society and accept the challenge of flexible thinking around aging.”

• • •

During the regular business portion of the meeting, commissioners made several approvals, including fulfilling the Village of Greenfield’s request for ARPA funding and signing off on new tablets for inmates at the Highland County Justice Center.

After a disagreement in open session two weeks ago, commissioners voted 3-0 Wednesday to pass a resolution to authorize funding of the Village of Greenfield Downtown Facade Improvement Program Project with Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery funds as established under the American Rescue Plan Act.

As previously reported, the village of Greenfield was one of several local municipalities seeking a share of the county’s American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds. The village submitted a request for funding to the county in 2022, seeking $550,000 for their Downtown Facade Improvement Program for small business owners.

Daniels said at the April 26 meeting that the county had “set aside $375,000 for the city of Greenfield’s program.” However, he said at that meeting that the county was was waiting to “clear up a misunderstanding” between the county and the village of Greenfield on an unrelated matter involving the Workforce Development Center before finalizing the request. The county had invoiced and was waiting for a payment from the village of Greenfield for the center, while Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin said the village cannot make a payment because a contract between the parties does not exist.

There was no discussion regarding the vote Wednesday, May 10, although Wilkin, who was present for the meeting, thanked commissioners.

After hearing from Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera, commissioners also voted 3-0 to approve an amendment to the county’s contract with Inmate Calling Solutions, LLC, for a new plan that will offer tablets to inmates.

According to Barrera, the tablets are paid for by the inmates, if they so choose, out of their commissary funds. Not only will they pay for the tablets, but they also will pay a certain per minute or per half-hour fee for usage, depending on what they are doing (texting, calling, streaming, etc.).

The tablets will allow inmates to communicate with loved ones as well as to access possible continuing education opportunities. The inmates can text, receive photos and make phone calls using the devices, the sheriff said, and everything will be monitored and recorded.

“They can file grievances against us, if they have a grievance,” Barrera said. “They can order commissary. They’ll be able to do education. They can get a GED. Just about anything you want on a computer now, they'll be able to do within the jail cells.

“Hopefully, that'll be a big success for us and for the inmates to educate themselves. It’s going to be a trial and error to see how it works out for us, and I hope it's a success.”

Daniels asked Barrera to explain the costs involved. The sheriff said that there is no cost to the county, with IC Solutions providing the tablets and setting up the “hardware and software,” while the inmates are responsible for paying for their own tablets.

“The reason I ask is we've got plenty of examples of [inmates] kind of disrespecting the jail and tearing things up out there,” Daniels said. “I don’t want them tearing up our equipment, but it's theirs to begin with? They purchase it?”

Barrera said the tablets are basically a “rental” for the inmates. Daniels then asked what liability issues exist for destroyed tablets.

“IC Solutions will replace it,” Barrera said. “It costs us absolutely nothing to have this program.”

Daniels said he just wanted to make sure the county is not “on the hook for replacing equipment when they seem to be pretty prone to tearing stuff up there.”

“They’re supposedly military-grade computers where they can take a beating, but no, we will have no cost involved in implementing this program,” Barrera said.

Barrera added that the company is also adding a new “vending machine” for commissary items.

“We’re going to try that, and if that doesn't work, we'll just have them take that back out,” Barrera said. “That’s the same with the tablets. If they start tearing them up, and it's not a good program, then we can take it out at any time.”

As noted by Britton and Barrera, the HCSO collects 25 percent of the fees for commissary items, so this is also an opportunity to “make a little bit of money.”

“I think it'll be a big plus for the inmates,” Barrera said. “Hopefully, they'll take advantage of educational programs. The ones that want to learn to read and write can do that. The ones that want to get their GEDs, they can do that. They can even go on further and take some college courses.

“The nice thing about the system, too, is once they are out of jail, they can continue this program if they wish to do so.”

Commissioners also approved the following resolutions and contracts, each by a 3-0 vote:

• A budget modification within the Records Preservation fund from Other Expense to Supplies in the amount of $2,000.

• A budget modification within the Rocky Fork Lake Sewer fund in the amount of $20,000.

• A request from Probation for a budget modification within the 2675 Jail Diversion FY14 fund in the amount of $6,500. Also requested is an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds in the amount of $6,500.

• An Ohio Department of Job and Family Services IV-D contract among commissioners, Highland County Child Support Enforcement Agency and Common Pleas Court.

• A copier lease agreement with Canon Solutions for the county’s Human Resources department.

At 10:30 a.m., commissioners reconvened for a work session with the WDC Group to review bid packets for the planned Ohio State University Extension Office at the Highland County Fairgrounds.

“Once we get that fixed, hopefully they can possibly get this thing rolling and out for bid,” Britton said.


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