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An artist's conception of the future Senior Services Plus in Alton.
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Photo by Fred Pollard
Senior Services Plus Development Coordinator Melanie Racki stands in the back area of the center’s property. Expansion plans include turning this area into a fitness center.
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Photo by Fred Pollard
Spray paint designates the future home of a fitness center for the senior center where a parking area currently stands.
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Photo by Fred Pollard
The grassy area behind the center will be the future home of an expanded parking lot, adding nearly 100 parking spaces.
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Photo by Fred Pollard
The current front entrance to Senior Services Plus.
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Photo by Fred Pollard
The School House Grill, located inside Senior Services Plus, is open to the public and offers breakfast and lunch specials. The café is open weekdays from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m.
ALTON – As early as next year, the 53,000 senior citizens living in Madison County will have more space to be able to stretch their wings.
A $4 to $4.5 million expansion project is in the works at Senior Services Plus, with plans to add 18,000 square feet to the current 22,860-square-foot building at 2603 North Rodgers, the former location of the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.
The expansion, according to SSP, will create jobs, increase senior services and programs, and accommodate up to 3,000 additional members.
“Everyone wins,” SSP Executive Director Jonathan Becker said. “Residents will have increased access to programs, and seniors will be able to live more active, healthy lives through the expansion of programs and services we will be able to offer.”
Becker is excited about the prospect of an all-new, 7,000-square-foot gym, offering an inside walking track and a fitness equipment expansion from 54 to 73 pieces, at a cost of about $97,000. That will include equipment geared specifically toward seniors.
The expansion also includes a natatorium with 20-by-40-foot warm water exercise pool, two endless wave pools for low-impact exercise and therapy, 2,000-square-foot exercise classroom for larger fitness classes, expanded personal training, and the implementation of additional programs such as senior employment and health services.
“Another issue to look at is the fact that this is an old elementary school,” Becker said. “It’s not really made for space for people to exercise. People wanted a pool; it is vital for exercise when you are talking about issues with arthritis.”
So why now? To put it simply, SSP has outgrown itself.
“We have been growing and growing,” SSP Associate Executive Director Theresa Collins said. “As late as 2007, we had 253 members. By 2010, that had grown to about 800, and we are currently at about 1,150. We just have no more space in our facility.”
Becker says in addition to space, the center needs to grow in anticipation of a dramatically increased client base.
“We started studying trends in aging,” he said. “In 16 years, we are going to almost double the population of people over 60 in Madison County. You simply cannot build enough independent living centers to house everybody.
“The state recognizes that, and they know that a focus on aging in place is needed.”
And that is what Senior Services Plus was created for in the first place. Since its formation in 1973, the goal has been to help “everyone age successfully.” Keeping seniors independent, self-reliant, and in their own homes for as long as possible benefits not just the clients and families, but the community, as well.
“Based on our experience since opening the wellness center, people having access to affordable wellness is not only our mission, but a huge factor when it comes to their quality of life,” Becker said.
“When people stay in their homes, they are paying taxes; they are putting money into their own community,” Collins added. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
The expansion also will bring jobs to the area, SSP says. Currently, it employs about 340 people, including on-site staff, drivers, trainers and kitchen staff. The center hopes to add three full-time and 15 part-time positions.
“I don’t know of any other large-scale projects like this going on locally right now, so it will bring construction work as well as new SSP staff,” Collins said.
In 2011, the SSP Board of Directors developed a Planning Committee to examine long-term expansion possibilities. In November 2013, a Feasibility Study was conducted by the American City Bureau.
“This has been three years in the making,” Collins said. “There were about 50 people in the community who were questioned by the consultants. Everyone felt that there was a need and that with our history and experience, we could provide quality service.”
The issue of neighborhood parking also is addressed in the expansion. With a larger parking area in the rear, the lot will increase from 138 to 231 parking spots. The additional roadway and parking work is estimated to cost about $225,000.
So where will the $4.5 million come from?
“We’re hoping to raise all of that,” Becker said. “We are looking at some foundations, but we expect to raise the money ourselves.”
“While we are financially sound, we are also extremely fiscally conservative, so we have explored all of our options,” Collins said. “There have been many steps and aspects to this plan.”
One of the first steps was an internal campaign, and the employees have come through, contributing nearly $50,000.
“Only two weeks in, we (had) over 50 percent of our goal just for the internal campaign, so that shows strong support for this project and emphasizes how passionate the staff is and that they realize how important this is for the community,” Collins said. “We also will be looking at foundations, grants, corporate donations … we are exploring every opportunity for financial support.”
She said being debt-free and having a good standing in the community is an advantage, as well.
For Becker, the motivation behind the expansion has been and continues to be the effect it has on the population that is often the first to be forgotten and left behind.
“Many times, when folks lose a spouse they begin wasting away,” Becker said. “They come here and often find a new lease on life. That is why we do this.”
SSP Development Coordinator Melanie Racki is organizing monthly luncheon tours to introduce visitors to the center and allow them to check out the expansion plans as a way to promote awareness.
She says the next phase of the project, an official public announcement reaching out to the community, will occur in December or January, with construction expected to begin during the summer of 2015.
For more information, call (618) 465-3298 or visit the website at www.seniorservicesplus.org.
Did you know?
• SSP is one of the top 30 employers in the Riverbend, spending more than $1.7 annually in the local economy.
• Since 2008, SSP has grown from a $3.3 million to a $7.6 million organization.
• Madison County’s population of about 53,000 seniors is expected to rise by another 15,000 in the next 15 years.
• Only 5 percent of seniors older than 65 live in nursing homes.
• People older than 75 visit the doctor three times as often as those in the 22-44 age range.
• 77 percent of seniors have a cellphone. Fifty-nine percent of seniors use the Internet on a regular basis.
• In 2013, SSP participated in a major legislative effort to fund a supplemental appropriation for the Illinois Department of Aging in the CCP Homemaker Program to ensure timely payments for 2014.
History of Senior Services Plus
Senior Services Plus was established in 1973, born from the idea three local seniors had for more Greater Alton area programs that catered to their age group.
The Alton Area Senior Council, formed by Floyd Galliher, Art Steinman and Roy Marrow, was created with the mission to provide a “one-stop shop” for senior services in the Greater Alton area.
“Can you imagine what those three would think if they saw us today?” SSP Events and Activities Coordinator Kim Campbell asked.
After earning a grant for Nutrition and Support services, the council began conducting business out of its original location at 3512 McArthur Blvd. in Alton. By the end of that first year, there were five congregate dining sites throughout Madison County, serving 250 seniors daily.
Over the next 10 years, the organization grew and a multitude of programs were formed and implemented, including transportation, homecare, dining services, community care and foster grandparents (volunteer mentoring in local schools) programs, and Meals on Wheels, a program that continues to serve hot meals to hundreds of people daily.
The council also changed its name to Madison County Senior Citizens Services Inc., and then to Senior Services Plus. In 2006, it moved to the current location at 2603 North Rodgers in Alton, the former site of the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.
Today, SSP continues to provide a diverse array of health, nutrition, education and recreational services for seniors in a six-county region, including Jersey, St. Clair, Clinton, Marion, Macoupin and Madison counties. It is the largest provider of direct services for seniors in Greater Alton and throughout Southern Illinois.
In 2013 alone, SSP provided services to 30,964 seniors and their families through the Home Maker, Health and Wellness, Foster Grandparents, Information and Assistance, Transportation Service, Activities, and Meals on Wheels programs.
The School House Grill
More than just a senior center cafeteria, the School House Grill has grown and expanded both its menu and its purpose.
Originally created to sustain the Meals on Wheels program through Senior Services Plus, the café continues to do so in addition to being the anchor for the Get Fit program and serve hot, delicious food to guests at the same time.
“There is no other operation like this in the Midwest,” Senior Services Plus Executive Director Jonathan Becker says. “We are proud of what we have accomplished here.”
Breakfast specials are offered daily, including pancakes and eggs, croissant sandwiches, French toast, and biscuits and gravy with hash browns.
Lunch specials change daily, and include regular menu items such as hamburgers, Philly cheese steak, fish, spaghetti, salads, desserts and more.
Proceeds from the café go toward Meals on Wheels, providing homebound seniors with nutritious meals.
“The School House Grill is not just for seniors,” Becker says. “Come in, have a great meal, and know you are contributing to a great program like Meals on Wheels.”
Last February, the café added a new kitchen manager, Chef Tony Hedger. Almost immediately, he began renovating the menu and adding new items.
“A few items I have added to the menu are the Tilapia Reuben, Meatloaf Sandwich, and Chicken Mudega,” Hedger said.
Hedger was executive chef at Bruno’s Corporation in Birmingham, Ala., before stints as both chef and executive chef at locations across the country, including the Gulf Coast area in Alabama, the University of California in Santa Barbara, and the Sheraton Lakeside Chalet in St. Louis. He also taught intermediate cooking skills at L’Ecole Culinaire in Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis.
At SSP, he also plans, prepares, and packages more than 1,000 meals per day for senior citizens enrolled in the Meals on Wheels and Congregate Site Programs.
“I have worked with staff members from all levels of culinary arts,” Hedger said. “Anyone from line cooks to famous people, and I think that I am most proud to say that I have a passion for the food that is being prepared and I am happy to be working with the staff at SSP and to always keep improving what we offer to the public.”
The School House Grill is open from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For more than 40 years, Senior Services Plus has offered a variety of programs and services for seniors throughout the Greater Alton area.
With the upcoming renovation and expansion of the main building, it plans to offer even more.
“Our goal is to be a one-stop community center for people as they age,” Senior Services Plus Executive Director Jonathan Becker said. “We knew if we had more room inside our facility, we could provide more services.”
MEALS ON WHEELS
Every morning, drivers load up vehicles with meals prepared at SSP and deliver to hundreds of seniors who may be homebound or otherwise unable to prepare their own meals.
“Sixty percent of the people who use Meals on Wheels have no family in the immediate area,” Becker said. “It is an interesting phenomenon that in China, for all those years they had the ‘one-kid rule,’ the community began having to take care of all of the elderly people in their community. We are finding that starting to happen in our own country, which is why programs like this are so vital.”
Six hundred meals go out daily, from Godfrey to Lebanon, Ill., across 22 townships. This does not include the additional catering and partnerships with programs such as Head Start.
In 2013, the program provided 154,679 meals to seniors in need.
FOCUS ON VETERANS
When they discuss the veterans program at SSP, employees light up as they share stories.
“With programs such as this one, it is not just about wellness; it’s a social connection,” Becker said. “When you hear some of the stories from folks who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, it really is amazing.”
“One vet had been fighting for his benefits for 20 years, he told us in tears,” Events and Activities Coordinator Kim Campbell said. “We put him in touch with the right people, and finally helped him with his benefits. It was so emotional for him, and it was emotional for us, as well.”
SSP Associate Executive Director Theresa Collins says the program helped give the military veteran a sense of belonging and purpose, which had been missing for many years.
“There are so many of those stories in this building,” she said. “This place changes lives. When you see someone come in on oxygen in a wheelchair, and within a month is walking down the hall with a personal trainer, you can’t help but feel good.”
By 2030, seniors are estimated to live an average of 20 years longer, with increased chances of chronic conditions that may be controlled and improved by wellness programs.
Becker says he sees more and more people who are planning to work until they are 65 or 70, making fitness a top priority.
“Many people now in their 40s and 50s were hit hard by the economic recession, so they know they are going to work longer,” he said. “Medical costs are a hot topic now. Health is a factor that impacts people at any age, but as you get older, those costs increase. Staying healthy can keep those costs down.”
Fitness classes are offered at SSP six days per week, including Get Fit, spinning, Zumba, yoga, and “night crew” weightlifting. Nine separate yoga classes alone are offered throughout the week.
“We offer customized classes that look at limited abilities,” Campbell said. “Classes really need to be customized to meet your needs, and we stand out in our ability to do just that.
“Sometimes men in particular do not want to participate in classes that involve a group setting. Our weightlifting class gives you the opportunity to work out in the evenings; it can be just you and the instructor, doing your own thing. It has become very popular.”
While many seniors could give the younger generation a run for its money, Collins says no one should be intimidated by the programs offered.
“Many people are coming in at 55 years of age or older and have never exercised,” she said. “They want to come to a facility where they feel comfortable, and they feel welcomed, and that is what we provide. They are not going to be judged or embarrassed because of their limitations. That being said, they will be pushed, beyond what they often think they are capable of doing.”
Classes are affordable, and all trainers are ACE or ACSM certified.
Wellness Center hours are 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday.
In its 40-year history, SSP has seen itself morph and adapt to the ever-changing needs of its base.
“In the last seven years, we have four new initiatives that we have started to accommodate those needs — Independent Lifestyle Solutions, Care Transitions, the wellness center and the veterans program.
“Care Transitions is the newest, started last year. It is a partnership with Alton Memorial, Saint Anthony’s and Belleville Memorial to help people 60 and up to transition to home after medical care and make sure rehabilitation is successful. It has gone really well.
“We are not competing with other clubs in town. They are great facilities for people to go. Our focus is mission-driven. It doesn’t make us better or worse; we are just focused on people aging successfully.”
To learn more about the many programs Senior Services Plus has to offer, call (618) 465-3298 or visit the website at www.seniorservicesplus.org.