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With a growing list of activities planned for Garden City's fastest growing population, less independent senior citizens are missing out because they can't hitch a ride. Although they may no longer drive, they very much would like to remain active members of their community.

"We really haven't solved the transportation issues in this village," Mayor Peter Bee said while speaking at Garden City's senior center. "It is a problem that is occurring and prevents many seniors from participating in many of the activities that are available in the village."

The St. Paul's Senior Center located in the cottages at 108 Rockaway Avenue offers daily activities, anything from its popular walking program, day trips and tours like the April 28 NYPD tour of New York City, games, guest speakers, song groups, an exercise program and more.

According to Kevin Ocker, chair of the Board of Commissioners of Cultural and Recreational Affairs, the village's Recreation Department does not currently offer transportation to and from the St. Paul's Senior Center. "We do encourage our participants/users of the facility to assist in picking up those who are in need of transportation," he said.

Most seniors who frequent the senior center drive themselves. But for those who can't, the Long Island Checker Cab Company's "Super Tuesday" deal is currently being offered - completely free taxi service to anywhere in the village. Any other day of the week, the cab company charges a $4 fee, each way, to take seniors anywhere in Garden City, including the pool. Those interested in taking advantage of this service can call Tom LI Checker Cab at 746-4666. For "Super Tuesday," calling a day in advance is a good idea.

If the village does offer transportation services to its seniors in the future, it would require the purchase of a handicapped-accessible vehicle, which Garden City currently does not have. "Unfortunately due to the fiscal situation we are deferring or eliminating the purchase of equipment and vehicles," Ocker said. Village officials must apply for a New York State grant to purchase the vehicle; this policy would be set by the board of trustees, not the Recreation Department.

Sue Salko, a licensed master social worker and a licensed NYS health and physical education teacher who runs exercise classes at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection and Garden City Community Church, believes there is much more the village could do for its aging population, including "accessible transportation and outreach to those isolated, frail seniors, living alone, lacking adequate opportunities for socialization but desiring to remain in their own homes for as long as possible."

When Salko was in charge of the Garden City Senior Project, which Senator Kemp Hannon funded and Family and Children's Association sponsored, she was able to set up the free "Super Tuesday" taxi service through LI Checker Cab. "The CEO of the company is a wonderful guy who cares about seniors and put his money where his mouth is," Salko told Garden City Life. "He covers the drivers' expenses for the freebies."

Salko points to a very successful program North Hempstead introduced called Project Independence, an initiative designed to help senior residents remain active members of their community. North Hempstead Town actually became the first suburban municipality in New York State to offer the program, partnering with FEGS Health and Human Service System, a not-for-profit human service agency, North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System and other local health care and social service providers to bring this project to North New Hyde Park residents.

The major goal of Project Independence is helping residents remain in their homes after retirement. The program, offered to anyone age 60 or over living in northern New Hyde Park, between Jericho Turnpike and Union Turnpike, offers transportation services, social and recreational opportunities, healthcare monitoring and screening, connections to benefits and services, home maintenance assistance like lawn mowing and minor repairs, counseling, meal preparation and nutrition assistance. Volunteers are a key component of the program.

"Lack of easily accessible public transportation remains a critical issue for suburban dwellers, especially seniors who have had to give up their cars," Salko said. "Many communities have senior buses, which emanate from their senior centers, offering transportation for their seniors to shop, attend activities in the centers, go on trips, etc. These centers also provide professional social work services for seniors to address many issues, including financial, medical and nutritional, as well as concerns about aging, feelings of loss, isolation and loneliness to name a few."

According to Mayor Bee, village officials are always "looking into" ways to further help Garden City's seniors, however, current budget constraints make this very difficult. "That is why we sometimes turn to partial solutions, such as the voluntary price reductions like those now offered by LI Checker," Mayor Bee said.

To properly cater to its aging residents and address their needs and the needs of their caregivers, Garden City, along with Adelphi University's School of Social Work, conducted a year-long senior citizens assessment project several years ago. Mayor Bee, then-liaison to senior citizen affairs and then-village trustee, spearheaded Garden City's effort to better understand the needs of its aging population.

Results revealed services, such as those offered by Nassau County, remain underutilized. Dr. Regina Tracy, a professor at Adelphi University's School of Social Work said many elderly residents are not aware of what services are available to them, some are uncomfortable traveling outside of the village while others do not have any form of transportation to attend such services.

The study's recommendations called for the creation of a division of senior recreation services in the already established Department of Recreation. In addition, the study suggested creating a specialized senior transportation system and using an outreach case manager to assist seniors in receiving the services they require. "Combined, these services will allow village seniors to successfully remain in their own homes and community for as long as possible," Dr. Tracy said.

While many seniors remain quite independent, the aging process, for others, is accompanied by the need for various types of assistance in order to successfully "age in place." Without services to meet these changing needs, the elderly population will be forced to relocate, something the board of trustees and study participants did not - and still don't - want to see happen.

The survey attempted to answer several questions, including what services are available and are being utilized, what obstacles are preventing seniors from utilizing services and what gaps in service delivery exist.

The terms used in this study included social participation, use of support services and gaps in service delivery. Social participation is conceptualized as the involvement of a senior in activities outside of their own residence. Social participation is inclusive, but not exhaustive, of memberships in social clubs, involvement in religious-sponsored activities, service organizations, senior citizens programs and library-sponsored activities. Use of support services reflects a senior's enrollment in a formal program intended to enhance his/her social and/or physical functioning. Support services include senior transportation, nutritional programs, financial or in-kind, case management, respite and more. Gaps in service delivery refer to identified areas of needed services that are not accessible or available to senior residents.

The study gathered data in both survey and interview format from 233 (out of a possible 700 - a 33 percent response rate, customary for such surveys) seniors and 98 (out of a possible 141 - a high response rate of 70 percent) service providers who work with village seniors. The questions were derived from a comprehensive review of the literature on the needs of the elderly. The items reflected the three research questions of the study.

Seniors who volunteered to complete the self-administered questionnaire, distributed at local clubs, senior organizations, the local library or through home delivery services by local food markets and pharmacies, answered 10 open- and close-ended questions like "Are you currently participating in any social and/or recreational activities?" "Which of the following programs do you attend?" and "What, if anything, prevents you from attending activities in the community?"

Local social service and recreational service providers answered 20 open-and close-ended questions, including "Are there any obstacles that prevent seniors from attending activities at your agency?" "What items have you had to put in place to maximize the seniors' participation?" and "What needs, if any, do the seniors have that are not being met by your agency?"

Trained research assistants (graduate students of social work) conducted the interviews. Dr. Tracy noted that the sample of seniors were 65 years of age or older, with 62 percent over the age of 75. Sixty-six percent of participating seniors were female. Fifty-one percent reported volunteering between one and 10 hours per week. "The sample was self-selected," Dr. Tracy explained. "Therefore, the findings are limited to those seniors who volunteered to participate. Generalizing the findings to other senior populations should only be done for those with similar demographic characteristics to the self-selected sample studied."

Specifically, the study revealed gaps in service with regard to transportation, outreach and graded recreation services and made recommendations so that the village not only meets the needs of its current seniors but also prepares itself for the baby boomers soon to be entering their retirement years.

Detailed recommendations to fill these gaps include developing partnerships with local agencies, the Seniors Connection Program and Adelphi University School of Social Work as well as creative program development and senior planning communities.


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