Senior Diplomacy in Alexandria

SSA Ambassadors program reaches out to community.

Alexandria has been home to its share of political ambassadors over the years. But Senior Services of Alexandria is giving new meaning to the word with its latest Senior Ambassadors volunteer program.

With a goal of providing information about services and programs for seniors in Alexandria, SSA is recruiting and training volunteers to act as ambassadors on behalf of SSA in their respective communities.

“Our goal is to reach out to senior communities from every part of the city representing different socio-economic and ethnic populations,” said MaryAnne Beatty, director of communications and community outreach for SSA. “We currently have 51 volunteer ambassadors serving communities from faith communities, senior centers, senior communities and general neighborhoods.”

The Senior Ambassadors program has been in existence for about a year. It began as part of the Commission on Aging’s Livable Communities plan that is part of the World Health Organization and AARP Livable Communities initiative across the country. Alexandria is the first community in the area to be accepted by AARP.

According to Beatty, SSA stepped up to manage the program for the city.

“We put together a task force with members from SSA, the Division of Aging and Adult Services, Loudoun County’s representation from their ambassador program, Commission on Aging, and a community representative from Westminster Presbyterian Church,” Beatty said. “The task force set up how the program would work, what communities we would look to get ambassadors to represent, how to recruit volunteers, training, etc.”

Janet Hawkins has been involved in the program since its inception and is the ambassador to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Beverley Hills.

“I don’t like admitting I’m a senior,” Hawkins said with a laugh. “But it’s important to get the word out about what SSA has to offer. People think it is only Meals On Wheels or for people who need help. Yes, it does that, but so much more. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in Alexandria, and I want people to know about what SSA has to offer to anyone that is a senior in the city.”

According to Beatty, the volunteer can do as much or little as their schedules allow. Each week the ambassadors receive an email from Beatty with updates on upcoming programs and events. Ambassadors receive a training class and are provided resources to use in their community.

“The program is really making an impact in getting out the information and we are seeing an increase in participation in programs and services,” Beatty said. “Ambassadors are serving as an additional set of eyes and ears in the community for seniors.”

Hawkins gets the word out on SSA programs through weekly bulletins and word of mouth.

“I’ve been introducing seniors to the SSA programs such as the Friendly Visitors program, Groceries to Go and Animeals,” Hawkins said. “We all know having a pet in your home as you age is a good thing. It provides companionship, which is important to aging adults.”

Francine Carrera is a senior ambassador for the 4600 Duke Street complex in the West End.

“I’m fairly new to this but it’s very rewarding for me as a volunteer,” said Carrera, who last year completed SSA’s Senior Academy program. “It’s sometimes slow for people to open up about needing service – seniors want to be independent. But I want seniors to know what SSA can provide for them and the more I do this the more people will get to know me and feel comfortable about participating.”

Carrera’s participation led to a senior with limited vision taking advantage of SSA’s Friendly Visitor program to receive weekly help reading mail.

“This is a way for me to give back – to ‘pay it forward’ so to speak,” Carrera said. “Through the Senior Academy I saw so many people taking their time to put together that program and not getting paid. I feel the best way of thanking them is to volunteer myself. My building manager has been very supportive, which makes it easier to get the word out to seniors about the programs that are available to them.”

Both Hawkins and Carrera mentioned the support and guidance offered by Beatty and SSA executive director Mary Lee Anderson.

“Mary Lee and MaryAnne are doing a fabulous job,” Hawkins said. “They are doing amazing things for the seniors in Alexandria.”

For Hawkins, a reward has been in serving the senior community.

“It’s been great trying to connect people,” Hawkins said. “The focus in Alexandria today seems to be on development but it’s important to see that there are services out there that promote activities for seniors. We want the city to be recognized as good for senior living.”

To learn more or to volunteer, visit www.seniorservicesalex.org.

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