Facility Director Davelyn Martin is often a staff of one seeing to the daily needs of the usual 50 Baker resident regulars at the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging Senior Center on Jefferson Avenue. However, the center was filled passed capacity Friday, Feb. 2, when the city, multiple agencies and scores of volunteers gathered to celebrate a reopening and tout renovations and enhancements.
The reopening, like the enhancements, was a concerted effort involving Baker, the Council on Aging and law enforcement officers from 10 departments in and around the greater metropolitan area.
Baker Mayor Darnell Waites said the effort leaves no doubt the city’s seniors rank very high in terms of priorities.
“Because seniors are everything, they deserve the best,” Waites said. “We talk about it all the time, and I saw that the Council on Aging had great leadership, and I wanted to be a part of that great leadership, so we decided to work together to get them (seniors) what they needed.”
The needs were great even before the 2016 flood added greatly to the list. It was accomplished from many budgets with Waites and the city putting their money at the top of the list and the top of the building with funding for a new roof. Agency leaders said the senior center got new furniture, a paint job, appliances, electronics and more.
“We never once talked about money; we talked what we needed to get done,” Waites said. “I think it’s very important that we take care of our seniors and they have always been my priority.”
The mayor praised the groups involved for raising the bar through selfless teamwork. “It’s all about agencies working together and everybody keeping their egos in check and doing something to actually serve people, he said. “The story should be about how we worked together to get this done.”
The agency has served the aging population of East Baton Rouge Parish since 1973. The Council on Aging provides both nutritional and social services, but it is also taxed with meeting and discovering the growing needs of the ever-increasing aging population.
“The oldest trees bare the sweetest fruit, and that’s our seniors,” said Tasha Clark-Amar, the agency's chief executive. “It’s important that we pay homage to those who paved the way for us. If not for them, where would we be?
“I think it’s important that we ease the struggle on them in their latter days. They should not have to worry about whether they are going to eat or buy some medicine.”
During the 2016 flood, Waites and Clark-Amar met at 3 a.m. at the Council on Aging facilities to formulate a plan help affected seniors.
“Working with the mayor and my board, I was told to go out and take care of the senior sat any cost,” Clark-Amar said. “We leave our egos at the door. It’s teamwork that makes the dream work.”
The fully functional center provides services that include daily hot meals, Meals on Wheels, recreation, music therapy, fitness instruction, field trips and big holiday feasts. Any seniors who could not come out to the reopening received a fish plate delivered to their homes.
Clark-Amar said the agency has 15 centers across the parish with plans to add four more next year. The agency serves more than 524,000 meals a year.
Board Chairwoman Jennifer Moisant said she felt the reopening shined a light on the positive Council on Aging deliverables.
“This is the kind of stuff that I like,” she said. “Coming out here doing this and seeing how happy the seniors are shows how well this agency is serving the seniors of the parish.”
Quality food choices are not in reach of some seniors because some live in areas lacking in fresh food choices and full-service grocery stories.
“Many of these seniors live in food deserts, and they don’t have access to grocery stores, so this is a place where they can come, have some fun and get a hot meal,” Moisant said.
Food was not only available at the reopening event, but a fleet of cooks in uniform gave new meaning to “protect and serve.” Baker Chief of Police Carl Dunn was the head cook, and he enlisted the help of several police officers across the region to help prepare lunch for the hundreds in attendance and the homebound. Departments represented included Baker, Zachary, Central, Baton Rouge, Southern University, White Castle, Port Allen, Baton Rouge Community College and St. Gabriel police departments, and Baton Rouge City Constable’s Office.
Dunn works with neighboring law enforcement with efforts like the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the Delta Narcotics Task Force, so he made phone calls to enlist help.
“I wanted us to not only collaborate on drug arrests and things like that, but I wanted us to collaborate on doing good and positive things in our neighborhoods also,” he said.
Dunn offered his views on “protect and serve” while cooking and serving fish dinners in the bright red apron covering his uniform.
“If you put all your energy into law enforcement — the protect side — you are not leaving much for anything else, but if you put the majority into the service side, you won’t need the protect side as much,” he said.
Dunn sees his role includes helping to foster good, positive relationships with the seniors of the community. “When they think of us, that’s the side I would rather them imagine,” he said.
As participants left, the chief said, “this is going to be the best place in the world when we get through with it.”