The anniversary of the Kiowa County Senior Center drew more than a hundred people last Friday. First-year director Kari Kyle says the center has become not just a place for seniors to get weekday meals and visit with friends but an established community destination as well.
“It’s been a great transition for me personally,” said Kyle. “I love being around the seniors, I love what they give to me. They are a blessing every day and everyone smiles, so that’s a good thing.”
About a year ago the Kiowa County Council on Aging (KCCA) relocated, from their temporary post-tornado home inside the Greensburg Methodist Church, to their brand new building along Main Street.
Kyle, the co-owner of the Green Bean Coffee Co., was named to succeed then-director John Wickland around the same time.
“We are thrilled to have her,” said Wickland in a Signal article announcing Kyle as his successor. “She has all of the qualifications we were looking for. I’ve seen the way she connects with the seniors and her personality and how she has been received. I know the seniors like her and many of them already know her. That is one of the important things for us; connection and trust.”
It was a triple celebration on Friday: for the new building, Kyle’s first year, and it was also a volunteer celebration day.
One hundred and two hamburger lunches were served to seniors, friends, family and many of the volunteers that keep the center running.
“It was amazing, it was very good,” said Kyle on Monday. “The turnout was wonderful and the atmosphere and the sprit was great. People were happy.”
While attendance ballooned on Friday, as it does during special celebrations, Kyle says the daily lunch attendance has returned to pre-tornado levels, averaging about 41 daily meals.
“That is even more impressive considering our population has been cut in half and our senior population is down,” she added. ”It improves the quality of life for the people that take advantage of our meal service. That is what we are here to do, to make an impact on an individual level.”
Kyle attributes much of that success to her tireless volunteers, nearly 30 members of the community, who serve the meals, deliver lunches to seniors at home and do thankless odds and ends like filling salt shakers and cleaning dishes.
“Our volunteers are always so humble. They don’t want any recognition. They do just about anything that needs to be done and it wouldn’t be the same place without them. We even have, not necessarily daily volunteers, but people who are willing to help if we need it. If someone isn’t going to be here we can call on them.”
Page 2 of 3 - She also has plenty to say about their full-time cook, Charla Little.
“She is just amazing. The food is so great and we are so very lucky to have her,” Kyle boasted. “I had the opportunity to eat at a couple other senior centers in Kansas over the last year. The taste, appearance and overall quality of the food was far below ours. We are so very blessed to have her. Plus, the seniors love her.”
While the meal service is the center’s bread-and-butter Kyle says they have had more-than-expected interest in community-use of the building.
A local church uses it for weekly youth groups and bible study. Families have held milestone birthdays and anniversaries there. The Girl Scouts used the building during their 100th Year celebration, the Kansas Southwest Area Agency on Aging has held their regional meetings there and Kyle said the Good Samaritans have held meetings there as well. Book signing and lectures are also fairly common.
“Many people, including seniors that don’t attend regular meal service, have used the facility for events,” she said. “People have said ‘it really made our family reunion great and comfortable and we had everything we needed.’ I think it is a good community building not just a senior building. We have other great facilities in the county to use but I think it is great that we can do those events and be that type of building again.”
Kyle said her first year has been “overwhelming” at times.
“Thank goodness for John Wickland. He’s helped me from afar,” she said. “He does it out of the goodness of his heart.”
Wickland, now living with family in Virginia, was the KCCA director for two years, seeing the new facility through from planning, to financing to completion before leaving on a bicycle tour of Europe.
“I called Kari last Monday, which is the actually anniversary and congratulated her,” said Wickland on Tuesday. “It sounds like she’s done very well with events, probably better than I did. It’s very satisfying to me to such a positive response from the seniors and from the community. It makes me feel really good to have been part of it.”
As Kyle looks towards her second year, she says a lot of room for improvement remains.
“I’d like to see an increase in our meal service, but I would also like to see an increase in weekly activities. We do have cards, dominoes, bingo and things like that, but I would really like to see more activities. It is hard to hit on the things that will get people to come in every week.”
She says crowds are smaller in the late afternoon after lunch. She’s planning more field trips, fundraisers and late-day events to bring county seniors into more social environments.
Page 3 of 3 - “The people that come for activities; some of them have really come out of their shell. They came once or twice a month and now they come everyday.”
She says the impact of their meal service on the health of county seniors is without question, but it also can impact family members.
“The meals on wheels; we might make the most impact on those people, even though they don’t come to our facility. The family knows their loved one will get a meal everyday. It can give them some piece of mind and comfort that there is a place for their mother or father or grandparents to go everyday and interact with people and be active.”