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Thursday, June 14, 2018 12:05 am

Living it up at the senior celebration

 

More than 2,500 people attended the 20th annual Central Illinois Senior Celebration May 16 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The theme this year was “Engage at Every Age.”

The event is held each May, and coincides with the Administration for Community Living’s Older Americans Month.

“It’s a big undertaking,” said Jean Welch with Senior Services of Central Illinois, who chaired the event this year. “It was very successful. I think we did quite well.” Welch credited this to her exemplary steering committee.

“This event is a one-stop shop for seniors,” she said, and is a great opportunity to bring everybody together under one roof. So often she hears from people who say, “Wow. We didn’t know these services were here.”

This year there were more than 100 exhibitors from throughout the state representing assistive technology services, end-of-life planning, health providers, housing options, retirement homes, state agencies, social service agencies, travel and volunteer opportunities, with 24 first-time exhibitors. More than 35 medical providers offered free health screenings.

Among the exhibitors present was Phil Miller, Master Sergeant with the Illinois State Police Medicaid Fraud Control Bureau. His unit investigates allegations of Medicaid fraud, abuse and neglect. He was there giving out information about the program and the services it provides. He encourages anyone who suspects abuse or neglect to call the hotline.

Debbie Hurley, library technical specialist with the Illinois State Library Talking Book and Braille Service, spoke to a lot of attendees who aren’t aware that this program exists. The free service provides audio books to people with vision problems who have problems reading standard print.

This was the first year that Dana Ingle, executive director of Bright Star Equestrian Centre in Petersburg, participated in this event. Her facility teaches therapeutic riding to seniors to improve strength and balance. She encourages people to call and schedule an appointment to come out and try something different.

Len Lieberman was representing the Academy of Lifelong Learning program offered through Lincoln Land Community College. There are currently 425 members, and it offers a variety of programs for seniors aged 50 and older. “It’s a fun group,” he said, and he invites everyone to come out.

Also in attendance were several individuals representing the Military Order of Purple Heart 159. This organization works with veterans who need assistance and maintains the Monument of the Purple Heart at Oak Ridge Cemetery, honoring Purple Heart veterans.

The Celebration began in 1997 when a small group of senior agencies and organizations held a free information and health fair for area seniors at the 4-H building at the fairgrounds. The first event drew more than 500 people. It was such a success that in 1998, organizers moved it to the Illinois Building where more than 2,000 people attended. In 1999, the event moved to the Orr Building.

The event continues to grow, and draws seniors from the surrounding area, ages 50 and up. “We try to make it exciting,” said Welch. “It’s a little bit different every year.”

Welch sees a younger population of seniors who come out to spend the day, enjoy food and entertainment and learn what opportunities are available. As seniors get older, she said, they’re staying active and engaged at every age. “We want to help them find the things they need.”

Dorothy Rhodes of Nokomis said she looks forward to coming every year. “It’s a place to get answers,” she said, and mentioned that she picks up information for herself as well as for others who can’t make it.

For many who attend, it’s a chance to get together with friends. Janet Hatchett and Leonia Curry of Springfield enjoy coming to the event together and meeting other people. They especially like learning about new products on the market for seniors and the wide variety of health care tests.

Joyce Gibbons and Imogene Roberts of Springfield have been friends for 35 years and enjoy coming and seeing people they haven’t seen in a while. Both said there’s always great entertainment and good food and they always take advantage of the health screenings. “It’s an opportunity to learn what’s available,” they said.

“It’s a social event,” said Jannette Johnson of Springfield, who was with her granddaughter, Rachel Ramirez of Springfield. She learns something different each time she comes. “It’s nice to have one place where you can learn more about different programs.”

Ann White of Springfield came at the urging of her friends and said this was her first year. “It’s a little overwhelming,” she said. “It’s nice to know there’s a lot of help out there if you need it.” She’s already looking forward to coming back next year.

Ninety-five-year-old Wanda Alexander of Springfield has come every year but said this would be her last year. She can’t get over how many attend and always looks forward to seeing lots of friends.

Welch wants to get the word out about the event, and she credits word of mouth and community involvement for its increasing popularity. “The community is very supportive,” she said. “It’s a great event.”

The 21st annual Central Illinois Senior Celebration will be May 15 next year.

Roberta Codemo is a freelance journalist and frequent contributor to Illinois Times. Her website is codemowritingservices.com.

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