Ensuring Autonomy

Marion Senior Services helps area senior citizens maintain their independence by providing meals, transportation and more.

Jennifer Martinez

Marion Senior Services began helping local senior citizens in 1973 when a handful of volunteers started delivering meals daily to 13 of their homebound neighbors. The local nonprofit exists to give many seniors some sense of the independence they may have lost in recent years. 

“We believe everyone deserves to age with dignity,” says Natasha Dobkowski, the agency’s marketing and fund development coordinator. “Marion Senior Services provides supportive care services to the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged residents of Marion County.” 

Executive Director Jennifer Martinez notes the uniqueness of the nonprofit’s mission.

“Marion Senior Services operates under three primary silos: Nutrition, transportation and in-home support. As the lead agency for adult protective services, MSS is the only agency of its kind serving Marion County senior residents,” she says. “As the only organization offering these services to seniors, our programs are crucial to this growing population. We reduce barriers, increase quality of care and offer opportunities for individuals to maintain their independence, age in place and maintain their dignity.”

Maxine Stevenson and Diane Williams

Serving Marion County residents for more than 50 years, MSS “touches the lives of hundreds of seniors every single day,” Martinez offers. 

“What started as a group of volunteer neighbors who saw a need in their community has grown into an agency with over 100 employees,” she adds. “We serve as the lead agency for Adult Protective Service and as the County Community Transportation Coordinator in Marion County for the transportation disadvantaged.”

Martinez emphasizes the transportation department, Marion Transit, serves all ages, not just seniors. 

Transportation is offered at an affordable rate of $2 per one-way trip. In 2023, Marion Transit buses drove just shy of 1 million miles throughout Marion County, reaching those in even the most rural areas of the county. 

Martinez says the nutrition department delivers more than 300 meals daily through the Meals on Wheels program, with over 78,000 meals annually. 

“Meals are delivered Monday through Friday rain, sleet, or snow, to frail and homebound seniors,” she states.

Once 8am rolls around, the nutrition program staffers and volunteers start packing meals in special containers for delivery. The drivers start their routes immediately afterward, so they deliver the meals fresh and hot to senior citizens across the county. 

MSS also offers hot meals once a day at its service centers, along with fun activities for seniors who can drive but still need assistance with meals. 

“While the nutrition department is bustling, our case managers and program specialists are working to ensure that our in-home support clients receive adequate support services,” Dobkowski says. “They regularly assess new and existing clients, reassess their care plans and adjust based on their needs. Our co-responder team is regularly in the field identifying at-risk individuals and ensuring that they are efficiently triaged and diverted from hospitalization, institutionalization or incarceration.”

The in-home support program provides senior citizens with case managers and service coordinators who can arrange for the accurate assessment of the client’s needs and care, ranging from light housekeeping, in-home meals, transportation to personal care, companionship, adult day care, medication management, shopping assistance and help with chores.  

“We hope that with the work of our agency and senior-specific programs, no senior will fall through the cracks,” Dobkowski says. 

One of the goals for 2024 is to decrease the waitlist, which is extensive due to a lack of sufficient funds. 

The transit program of MSS is partly funded by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Marion County Board of County Commissioners. The nutrition program is funded partly by the United Way of Marion County and the Older Americans Act. The in-home support program is funded largely by state dollars. 

Cliff Calhoun and Richard Pucci

MSS hosts yearly fundraisers to help expand services through the county and minimize the waitlists. On March 23rd, the agency hosted a Wheels4Meals car show that organizers hope will become an annual event and a signature fundraiser.  

The Art of Aging is a collaborative effort of MSS and the Marion Cultural Alliance and celebrates aging through art, stories and education. The unique exhibit celebrates aging in photographs, lectures and paintings by alliance member artists over the age of 55. This year’s theme is A Place in Time, sharing memories through art, and will be on display August 2nd-31st at the alliance’s Brick City Center for the Arts in downtown Ocala.

MSS leans on the community for support not just for funding but for volunteers, with more than 155 volunteers currently donating their time daily to senior citizens, providing the support they rely on to maintain their autonomy.

“We believe that community partnership is what makes Marion County so special,” Martinez offers. “We are very fortunate to have a collaborative, innovative and generous community. Through these partnership and support, our mission is made possible.”

In the words of one client who has been receiving Meals on Wheels for over a year, “Friends are chosen family. I really, really appreciate the kindness and love of what’s fast becoming my chosen family—all of you—at Marion Senior Services. Smiling faces who come to my door five times a week, carrying food to nourish my body. It’s the smiles and genuine care of the volunteers who faithfully deliver in rain or sunshine. This adds the flavor of a beautiful dining experience. Of all these wonderful people, I have yet to meet someone who was not willing to give to little old me.” OS

To learn more, go to marionseniorservices.org

Posted in Community Spotlight, LivingTagged

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