When Fairbanks Senior Center stepped out of the picture in December, there were plenty of questions about what would happen to programs the center was funding as outreach to the Delta Junction community. A series of community meetings sought to bring all interested parties to the table to chart the future of caring for the greater Deltana area’s aging population.
In November, Hats of Wisdom, a local non-profit organization, agreed to be responsible for senior care programs already in place and to develop programs to move forward in meeting identified needs. The organization altered its mission statement and changed articles of incorporation to accommodate the increased scope of operation. Caring Hearts was born.
“Right now we’re just doing what we can, just waiting for grants to come in,” said Josie Barry, CEO of Hats of Wisdom.
She said they’ve hired a grant writer, applied for four grants, and hope to have a response within the next couple of months.
Hats of Wisdom is governed by a local board of directors. Those volunteers are Amanda Turnbull, Leah Byam, and Jessie Spencer.
Barry has also hired Elena Powers, who was formally the local public health nurse, to be the client care coordinator. Though Powers is an employee of Hats of Wisdom, part of her time will be spent volunteering as client care coordinator for Caring Hearts.
If seniors call in to seek services – perhaps help with chopping and stacking firewood – Powers does an assessment to determine what other needs they might have.
“Maybe there’s an unsafe situation, maybe they need food, maybe there’s other things volunteers can provide,” Powers explained.
Meals on Wheels
The first program to get off the ground is the Meals on Wheels program, which was started in 2019 by Fairbanks Senior Center and has provided 4,920 meals in the Deltana area since its inception. The Meals on Wheels program to Delta was discontinued in 2022.
Darlene Supplee, executive director for Fairbanks Senior Center, explained that a drastic funding cut meant the Delta outreach program could no longer be supported.
“We took $130,000 reduction in grant funds. We needed to reduce the amount of meals,” Supplee explained.
Not only did that mean discontinuing the Delta program, the center also had to implement a waiting list for Meals on Wheels in the Fairbanks area.
Delta was on its own, and Barry was up to the challenge.
“We spent December trying to figure out how we were going to continue Meals on Wheels without the money,” Barry said.
Ben Saracho, a retired cook, volunteered to make food for Meals on Wheels and head up the team in charge of the project, but he needed help. Volunteer Colin Winkelman stepped forward to help him. They are using the local catholic church’s kitchen and Saracho’s personal kitchen to cook. Winkleman, who is a firefighter on Fort Greely, also cooks meals with other firemen at the fire house. Funding to purchase food has come from individual donations.
Thanks to these volunteers and those who have donated funds for food, Barry noted, Meals on Wheels is now being cooked and delivered locally. The first run happened on January 10. Volunteers will cook and freeze meals to be delivered weekly to area seniors who have signed up for the program.
Getting seniors to and from Fairbanks continues to be an issue. Mike Kingston, a local volunteer, has been involved with that effort from the start and is taking the lead with the transportation team for Caring Hearts.
In January of 2020, Fairbanks Senior Center took delivery of a 2020 Toyota Sienna van to be used for Delta Junction seniors. Funding for that van came from Fairbanks Senior Center ($27,501), Delta Junction Covid Care Funds ($10,000), and an additional $6,166 from City of Delta Junction.
“I put a lot of thought into that van,” Supplee said, describing the van’s features.
She noted that all-wheel-drive was a must-have feature. She also considered fuel economy and a factory warranty. Safety features were another consideration, as was easy access from both sides of the van. Puddle lights are on both mirrors to light entries to vehicle because it is dark so much of the year and so many areas do not have sufficient lighting. The van is fully winterized with winter and summer tires.
Supplee said the van will be given to Hats of Wisdom to use for the Caring Hearts program.
“The biggest need and greatest expense was running individuals back and forth from Delta to Fairbanks for doctor’s appointments,” Supplee noted. “When the van is transferred to Josie to administer, she will also receive a restricted check of $2,000 to help pay for insurance for a year and for operational costs.”
The Fairbanks Senior Center received the $2,000 in donations for gas for the van. That money was never used because Supplee was able to get funding from other sources.
Barry said the van will be a valuable asset to the Caring Hearts program. It will be used to deliver Meals on Wheels as well as transporting seniors.
With more and more seniors choosing to age in place, remaining in their homes, inevitably some modifications need to be made. These can be anything from installing grab bars in the bathroom to enlarging doors to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs.
Barry explained that the home modifications team will also do handyman-type projects like fixing broken doors, unplugging toilets, etc.
James Owen is heading up that team and has a list of volunteers who will help.
Mary Leith has taken charge of the home care team, which will offer services like cleaning, laundry, and pet care.
Barry explained the distinction between home care and home health: home care is basic everyday stuff you do in the home, not involved with person’s body care. Home health deals specifically with bodily needs and requires certification from the state.
“We will eventually seek home health certification,” Barry said. “My goal is by summer to be certified by the state to offer those services so I can hire those caregivers.”
Caring Hearts would bill Medicare and Medicaid to pay for home health care services.
“It’s creating jobs,” Barry said proudly.
Grants or funding through Hats of Wisdom would happen to get home health care off the ground. Billing insurance would sustain that program, Barry explained.
Sometimes seniors want to talk to someone about spiritual matters or other concerns, and Colin Winkelman is heading up a team to provide that service.
“My goal is to bring on different pastors who are interested in meeting with clients in their homes if that is what a client wants,” Barry said.
“This really is a grassroots effort,” Powers added, noting that volunteers are still needed for all five of the teams.
People are needed in all areas of the organization, and a scheduler tops that list.
Volunteers can pick up an application at Hats of Wisdom in Delta Junction. They will also need to have an Alaska State background check performed and be fingerprinted. There is no cost to volunteers.
Barry said they’ve just had the first all volunteer meeting the first week of January, to which nine volunteers showed up. All filled out applications, interviewed with Barry, and started the mandatory eight-hour state training (Care Academy). Three are finished. About half are finished with the background check, and fingerprints are pending.
Hats of Wisdom is located at mile 266.5 Richardson Highway in Delta Junction across from the end of Nistler Road.
Call 907-803-7022 if you’d like to volunteer.
If you are a senior or disabled person in need of services, call 907-803-7022 to discuss your needs. There is no charge for the Caring Hearts program.