Over the past 40 years the Jackson County aging programs have transitioned from a group of concerned citizens on the well-being of the senior population, to a multitude of programs inside the Jackson County Department on Aging.
Jackson County has a long tradition of strong family values, neighbors helping neighbors, a strong spiritual ethic, and going the extra mile for each other. This was evident in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s when various county residents identified areas of the elderly population in Jackson County that were not adequately met by their family or friends. In September 1980, the first Jackson County Council on Aging members were appointed by the County Commissioners. This started the aging programs for Jackson County and the Council was later registered as a North Carolina non-profit corporation in March 1981.
The Council on Aging was designated as the Focal Point on Aging for Jackson County and an office was set up under the Department of Social Services at the Community Service Center.
It was evident that there was a need for space for seniors to congregate and participate in activities. Under the leadership of the Jackson County Recreation and Parks Department and with the support of the Council on Aging, the Golden Age Club was established in a building donated for $ 1 year by the Sylva City Council. It was later renamed the Golden Age Senior Center, and is now known as the Jackson County Senior Center located at the Department on Aging.
Transportation was also a big need in the early 1980’s. The Council acted on this need by establishing the first public transit program in 1982 with the purchase of 3 vans and continued to administer transit services for several years.
To help meet the need for low income senior housing in Jackson County, the Council on Aging partnered with Cullowhee Methodist Church to secure funding to build and operate the Jackson Village Apartments. In 1984 the 24 unit complex opened and Council on Aging members still serve on the Jackson Village Board.
Also during the 1980’s The Council realized the need to organized volunteers to cut, split, and deliver wood to seniors whose only heating and cooking fuel source was wood. This was the beginning of Project F.I.R.E. which still utilizes volunteers to delivery wood during the winter months.
Members of the Council on Aging collected information about services important to the older population, gave referrals to appropriate agencies for service, and provided advocacy for those in need with limited resources. This program is continued today at the Department on Aging through CRC and Options Counseling.
The Jackson County Commissioners created the Jackson County Department on Aging at the end of the 1980s to administer the programs started by the Council on Aging and other services for the aging population. The Council on Aging continues as an advisory board to the County Commissioners and assists the Department on Aging with policies and procedures.
Funding became available in 1991 through the U. S. Administration on Aging as part of the Older Americans Act for areas of need for the older population. Minor emergency home repairs and safety modifications in homes for low income elderly were identified as a priority. Project C.A.R.E. (Community Action to Reach the Elderly) was initiated with these funds. Vista Volunteers provided the leadership in the early 1990 years using donated building materials, SABA (Southern Appalachian Building Aid) teams, and community volunteers to augment these funds. The Department on Aging continues the Project Care tradition through county funding and grant funding from the Home and Community Care Block Grant.
The Seniors Health Insurance Program (SHIIP) of North Carolina started training volunteers through the Jackson County Department on Aging in 1995. S.H.I.I.P. volunteers provide information to seniors about long term care insurance, Medicare Part A and Part B coverage, Supplemental Insurance policies, and billing problems. The Department on Aging continues to operate the SHIIP Program providing free no-biased counseling for Medicare beneficiaries.
During the month of December in 1995 the Department on Aging, Council on Aging, and Home Health partnered to deliver Christmas boxes to low income seniors in need. That first year 50 boxes were delivered full of needed items. Each year thereafter, Christmas boxes have been donated by caring residents of Jackson County and delivered through the Department on Aging. In 2014, there were over 500 boxes donated and delivered to seniors throughout the county.
Mountain Projects, based in Waynesville and serving the southwestern counties, started the senior congregate and home delivered meals program in 1977 through the Department of Social Services and later the Council on Aging. The Jackson County Department on Aging assumed the administrative responsibilities in 1996 for the congregate and home delivered meals at the Sylva Nutrition Site and the Cashiers Nutrition Site. These sites are now named Sylva Senior CAFÉ and Cashiers Senior Center.
In 1996, there were seven home delivered meal routes which has expanded to fourteen home delivered meal routes in Jackson County. Home Delivered meals are transported primarily by volunteers. The Nutrition program expanded in 1998 to include liquid supplementation for seniors with malnutrition, poor diets, increased caloric need, or inability to chew or swallow solid foods. A monthly vegetable distribution program through Manna Food Bank for low income families in Jackson County was added in 2006. Project Animals, supplemental pet food for home delivered meal clients, was also started in 2006.
The Jackson County Transit was administered by the Council on Aging and the Department on Aging until 1996 when a separate Transit Board and county department were created.
The Council on Aging acquired funding in 1997 to purchase two computers for the Golden Age Senior Center, one computer for the Sylva Nutrition Site, and one computer for the Cashiers Nutrition Site. These were public access computers and training is regularly provided for any senior in the use of the computers and using the internet. The Senior Center now has a full computer lab and continues to offer upgraded public access computers and training for seniors.
The Council on Aging, Department on Aging and WestCare Home Health Services collaborated in 1999 to plan and acquire funding for the CARING HANDS Group Respite program for clients with low to moderate Alzheimer's disease or other dementias. Mountain Trace Nursing Center provided the first space for this program administered by WestCare Home Health Services. The CARING HANDS Group Respite program transferred to the East Sylva Shopping Center in 2003 and was administered by the Department on Aging. The group respite program was terminated in 2006 and became the CARING HANDS In-Home Respite Care program. This program provides primary caregivers with much needed relief and respite in the home setting of persons with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias.
Adult Day Care services started on the Western Carolina University campus in 1985. This program was later moved in 2003 to the lower level of the Lovedale United Methodist Church and operated by the church. The Department on Aging took over the administration of the Adult Day Care services in 2007 providing new staff and expanding the program activities and now all services are located at the Department on Aging.
After several years of providing services in multiple locations, the Jackson County Department on Aging Services Complex was built in 2008. The County Manager and Commissioners approved and oversaw the construction of the new building to improve the level of services to the elderly citizens in Jackson County. The Jackson County Department on Aging continues to be one of the best aging services buildings in the state.
In June 2008, the North Carolina Division on Aging certified the Jackson County Senior Center as a 'Center of Excellence', the highest rank that a Senior Center can be awarded through the Division on Aging. The 5 year certification was renewed as a “Center of Excellence” again in 2013, making the Jackson County Senior Center the only center of excellence in the seven western counties of North Carolina.
In the fall of 2013 a new Cashiers Senior Center was opened under that direction of the County Manager and approval from the Commissioners. This center continues to serve the elderly citizens in the southern areas of Jackson County and is an integral part of the Jackson County Department on Aging.
The history of senior services in Jackson County would be complete without a special note of appreciation for the many volunteers over the years that have made and continue to make these programs and services possible. The Aging Services employees and the county government extend their profound gratitude to all the volunteers who have donated their time, expertise, transportation, tools and good will to brighten the lives of the seniors they serve.
The Jackson County Department on Aging provides the following programs through county funding and annual grants:
- Adult Day Care
- Caring Hands Respite
- Cashiers Senior Center
- Community Resource Connections
- Health & Wellness Programs
- Jackson County Senior Center
- Liquid Supplement
- Meals on Wheels
- Options Counseling
- Project CARE
- Project FIRE
- Project Lifesaver
- Respite Lending Closet
- Senior Christmas Boxes
- Senior Fan Program
- Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program
- Sylva Senior Cafe
Other spaces and programs:
- 90’s Birthday Celebration
- Computer Room
- Craft Room
- Field Trips & Outings
- Heritage Room
- Pool Room
- Gardening boxes
- Lending Library
- Multitude of groups & activities
- Music Room
- Volunteer Center
- Walking Trail
- & more