Numerous senior citizen organizations meet each week all across Chautauqua County, each with its own agendas and goals.
For more than 30 years, one umbrella organization has been in place to ensure that each of those organizations is moving in the same direction.
The United Senior Council is a group of senior citizens and other interested individuals representing most of the senior citizen groups throughout Chautauqua County. At monthly meetings, they exchange information and receive updates on the latest legislation and senior-related issues in the county, which they then take back to their local groups to share.
OBSERVER Photo by Dave Emke
Mary Ann Spanos, director of the Chautauqua County Office for the Aging, gives out information to members of the United Senior Council during the group’s March meeting.
Russ Diethrick, treasurer of the organization, was among the group's co-founders in 1978. He said that the reasoning behind the formation of the group was to share expertise and help to develop programming for the county's population of seniors.
''We used to have a 55-plus weekend at Chautauqua Institution, so we used that as a mechanism to get people together,'' Diethrick said. ''We elected officers and set the goal of meeting once a month and having general discussions about the programming and ideas, the needs and services of senior citizens in the county.''
United Senior Council has been doing just that ever since for 32 years, Diethrick said, both locally and at the state level.
''We act as an advocacy agency within the community, within the state and the government,'' he said. ''We advocate for each other.''
At the March meeting of the United Senior Council at the Lakewood-Busti Rec Center, county Office for the Aging director Mary Ann Spanos addressed attendees about issues facing seniors, as well as about new programs that can benefit them.
An OFA representative is present at nearly all United Senior Council meetings, vice president Ellen Coffaro said, to keep seniors aware of what is happening in Mayville.
''It's another opportunity for seniors to talk to them,'' she said. ''The representative is available to take information or for people to ask questions. She gives us information about what's happening in the county, what's coming up.''
Diethrick, who has held many titles in the organization over the years before settling into his treasurer role, said that the continuity provided to senior groups throughout the county by the group is important. He also said that United Senior Council has continued to grow in the three decades since it was formed, giving Chautauqua County's senior citizens an organized voice.
''We've had the ear of local governments, of the county government, and the representation, of course, in Albany,'' he said. ''They've known that we're here, what our problems are, and they're willing to listen. We didn't have a flag, but we had a flag to wave.''
Over the years, Diethrick said, United Senior Council has helped drum up support for various programming for seniors across the county, including the expansion of the Meals On Wheels program. He said that the representatives from the county who visit each meeting of the organization have been very helpful in keeping the group informed.
''They've been a great advocate of the United Senior Council,'' Diethrick said of the Office for the Aging. ''We bring resources in (to the United Senior Council), and the representatives take the information back to their own organizations. It's a good flow of information.''
Also at the March meeting in Lakewood, 97-year-old Emily Warner of the Lakewood-Busti Golden Agers was honored for her 16 years of service as an important member of the organization. Warner served as the group's ''Sunshine Lady,'' a job she said she enjoyed every minute of doing.
''Any time one of our members is sick, we send a get-well card,'' she said. ''Or, if there is an obituary, we send a sympathy card (to the family).''
After so many years of doing the job, though, Warner said it is time for her to turn over the reins. Connie Whitman is taking over the role of Sunshine Lady, she said.
''I'm 97 years old,'' Warner said when asked why she was giving up the position. ''I just figured it is time for somebody younger to do it.''
Despite that, she said she loves the role too much to take her hands out of it entirely - she admitted she'd likely be helping Whitman out however she can.
After receiving a pair of floral arrangements and being honored in front of the group during the meeting, Warner said that all of the fuss wasn't necessary.
''I only do what I do because I enjoy doing it,'' she said. ''It's just the idea of letting people know we were thinking about them in their sad times and bad times.''
A PROFICIENT GROUP
The official purposes and goals of the United Senior Council are threefold.
The not-for-profit organization was formed to provide, promote, maintain and support a program providing friendship, cultural achievements, recreational and instructional activities for all persons 50 years and older;
It aims to bring together all senior-citizen organizations and other groups interested in developing needed programs for the benefit of the senior citizens of Chautauqua County; and
It works to provide information, a forum of understanding, and an avenue for action pertaining to all matters of concern for senior citizens.
Diethrick said that while not many of the people who were at the table establishing the organization in 1978 are still around, he has always remained encouraged by the activity of the group.
''There's a whole rush of new people who keep everything going,'' he said. ''They've picked it up and run with it.''
Theresa Perrin, United Senior Council president, said that the organization is presently working to put together a Legislative breakfast for later this year, at which state representatives would be able to hear the thoughts and concerns of the county's seniors.
Coffaro said such an event would just be the next in a long line of proactive thinking done by the organization.
''We used to write a lot of letters, when that was the focus of the group,'' she said. ''We've really been a well-organized, well-run and proficient group to get out messages to the seniors in the county.''
The group meets once a month, spreading the meetings out to different locations throughout Chautauqua County in order to be as accommodating as possible to all its members.
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