County program gives seniors new outlook

Under the arched roof of First Presbyterian Church on Main Avenue, a group of Newton seniors bounced around a large yellow balloon.

It was a game of improvised volleyball — one of the many good-fun competitions and activities that some Seniors Morning Out (SMO) members participate in five days a week.

On Wednesday, Newton SMO coordinator Robin Curtis tossed the balloon into the group, and they slapped it around a bit. Some of the seniors floated the “volleyball” up into the air, but most rocketed the balloon across the room, smacking one another in the face.

“You hit me in the face,” one man said with a grin. The room erupted in laughter.

SMO members say laughter, and genuine happiness, is something they have regained through the SMO program — things they would be remised of without it.

“Seniors Morning Out kept me from going into deep depression,” said Joyce Gillespie, a Newton resident. “I look forward to coming in, talking to people and meeting people. I live by myself, and it seems like the walls are closing in when I don’t come here. They are like my family.”

Gillespie, who attends the morning activities and lunch three days a week, is one of 150 Catawba County residents who are served by SMO programs every day.

Across the county, there are five SMO locations in Newton, Claremont, Maiden, West Hickory and East Hickory that operate Monday through Friday. The daily meetings are one of four senior nutrition programs operated through Catawba County Social Services, said Jan Shaffer, the supervisor for Catawba County’s senior nutritional services.

“They really do have a good time,” Shaffer said. “It’s amazing how much they care for each other and form a community.”

In addition to providing lunch, SMO offers a variety of activities ranging from games, devotionals, health and wellness activities and fellowship.

The program is free and open to anyone in the community ages 60 and older and their spouses, regardless of age, according to SMO’s website, said Margaret Allen, public information officer for Catawba County DSS.

Clients don’t have to attend SMO every day to remain an active member, and interested seniors who qualify can call DSS at 828-695-5610 for more information, Shaffer said.

“To me, it’s a ministry and we are reaching out and becoming part of their family,” said Curtis, who coordinates the Newton group’s activities and lunch every day. “It’s a blessing to help them understand what they are going through with their aging process and helping them remain independent. We are like a family, and they have made me part of their family as well.”

Eva Mae Watkins, a Newton resident and SMO member, agrees that the group becomes a family over time.

“If we were their parents, they couldn’t treat us any better,” Watkins said of the DSS workers’ care. “We wake up and have a nice ride and come here. Every day is like new, like we haven’t come here before. If I wasn’t here or coming here, I would just sit around the house all day and not do much.”

In addition to the SMO program, DSS also offers Meals on Wheels, frozen meals, nutrition supplements and a pet food program for area seniors.

Shaffer said more than 700 volunteers make those programs go, and more volunteers are always needed.

To become a volunteer for one of the county’s many senior nutrition programs, contact DSS at 828-695-5610. If you are a resident or business that wants to donate or sponsor a senior in one of these programs, contact DSS at 828-695-5617.