In this episode, I sit down with Paula Schroeder from Aging Matters in Brevard to talk about all of the programs they provide for our aging population and their care takers.
I recently toured the Brevard Community Kitchen where they prepare the Meals on Wheels lunches, and wanted to know more about the organization behind it. This non-profit has a multitude of programs to support our Space Coast seniors.
And for those 55+, not quite seniors, they have opportunities for us too.
Listen to My Interview with Paula Schroeder from Aging Matters in Brevard
Links from My Interview with Paula Schroeder from Aging Matters in Brevard
If you’re interested in working as a volunteer for any of the Aging Matters in Brevard programs, please email:
Call Aging Matters in Brevard at (321) 639-8770
Main Website for Aging Matters in Brevard https://agingmattersbrevard.org/
Complete Transcript of My Interview with Paula Schroeder from Aging Matters in Brevard
Kim: 00:01 You’re listening to Space CoastStories, a podcast with interviews and stories from people and businesses on Florida’s Space Coast. I’m your host, Kim Shivler. Thanks for joining me.
Kim: 00:16 Hey everybody on the Space Coast. Welcome back to Space Coast Stories I’m your host, Kim Shivler. Thanks for joining me. I’m here today with Paula Schroeder from Aging Matters in Brevard. We have so much to talk about because we have a population that’s aging and we’re going to surprise you I think with some of the programs that are offered, we may not think about, and some of us who I’m in that age group have to start thinking that you know what? Aging is something that might affect us a little sooner than we think about. It’s not just about my grandparents who died in their mid nineties welcome Paula.
Paula: 01:04 Thank you Kim. It’s nice to be here with you.
Kim: 01:07 Now, as I mentioned, we have a lot of programs that you offer to talk about the first, let’s go ahead. I think most people know about Meals on Wheels, but I think there’s a lot of things they don’t know about it. I was sure. So let’s talk about that first. Okay. Okay.
Paula: 01:25 I just want to give you a little bit of history about this agency. It originally started in 1965 as the Community Services Council of Brevard County. Now what do you think that is? Would you think it’s for seniors? So there are many, many years that it went by that name and it really did start out as a way to coordinate some of the nonprofit activity that was going on in the County serving all kinds of people. But it gradually got narrowed down to really focusing on our senior population. I think it was around 2012 we went through a rebranding. Everybody has to be branded now and changed the name to Aging Matters in Brevard and I think that says it all because we do have a very large senior population senior. We’re talking people over the age of 65 here in Brevard County. We have a greater percentage of our population who is over 65 than anywhere else in central Florida.
Paula: 02:31 We have about 32% of our population now that’s 60 and over, which is our cutoff. And that’s probably going to reach 35% in the next few years and by 2040 it’ll be 40% it’s a lot of people and we have been doing Meals on Wheels since 1974 with this agency and that is a, that delivers a hot meal five days a week to homebound seniors and we have a raft of volunteer, hundreds of volunteers who deliver those meals and that is our best known program. But in addition to Meals on Wheels, our nutrition program also has a congregate dining program and that’s called Seniors at Lunch. We have 12 sites around the County, one in Mims, one in Micco and everything in between where people can come to a site and have the same meal that the Meals on Wheels folks get, but they’re in a group setting and so they have that social connection and they’re able to, they play a lot of bingo, but they do other things.
Paula: 03:46 We have educational speakers that come in, music, all kinds of different things and it’s a really great place for people to get together, which is an incredibly important part of aging is having that social connection. So the other things that we do, and we’ll go into them in more detail, I’m sure, let’s start with the younger seniors. We call them the younger older folks, people in their sixties and really people up into their eighties and nineties they want to stay active and they want to stay healthy. And we have exercise classes called Bone Builders for them to help prevent the bone density loss that occurs as people age, fall prevention. We have classes in fall prevention, living healthy with the chronic disease. We’ll teach classes in that. So that all gets to, as you were saying, you get, you start aging before you realize it and so you really need to pay attention when you’re in your forties and 50s how am I living my day to day life?
Paula: 04:56 Am I keeping myself strong and healthy? So that’s an emphasis that we have with our health and wellness programs. And then you get into a little bit. Some people have chronic diseases, they’ve got, you know, they might have had an injury, they’re in a wheelchair, whatever. There are things happen during life and they need a little extra help. So we do have a home care program, we have people that will go in and you know, make a meal for you, run some errands, do some light housekeeping. And then the next level up is if you need a little help taking a bath or a shower or if you need help, you know, getting in and out of bed, you know, changing the sheets on your bed. Imagine that if you’re really weak and you can’t lift a lot of things, making a bed is hard work.
Paula: 05:53 We’ve got people that will come in and help with that, have fantastic handymen that will come in and install, grab bars, safety bars for people. When you’re getting in and out of the shower, that’s the number one place for people to slip and fall. So if you have something to hang on to, you’re less likely to fall. They’ll come in and install those. We build ramps both inside and outside of homes. If you’re using a walkers, a lot of our houses here on the Space Coast, it’s really kind of funny. They’ve got these little step down living rooms, especially over on the beach. I don’t know why, but that was a thing, I guess back in the 70s and so they’ll install little ramps, transition areas so that you can get smoothly around your house. We have a transportation program, people who can no longer drive.
Paula: 06:48 We have volunteers who will go and pick you up at your home, take you to your doctor’s appointment or go to the grocery store, go get your hair done, whatever it might be. And that’s very, very important. It’s difficult to get around on the Space Coast if you don’t drive yourself. We take care of that. The one program that we have that we serve people under the age of 60 is our Vets Driving Vets program. So veterans can sign up to give rides to other vets. They may be disabled, you know, in one way or another. And even if they’re in their 30s or forties we’ll go and pick them up through that program. The Sunflower House that is our caregivers support site, caregiver resource center, and that’s an actual physical site at the Merritt Square Mall and we have got lots of classes there.
Paula: 07:43 The idea is that people who are caregivers to people who are aging, especially those with dementia who need a lot of physical help, that’s a 24 seven job for them and it’s very demanding and they need to have a place where they can go for, for help and for support. So we have support groups, we have exercise classes, we have seminars, they do Friday movies, do arts and crafts, all kinds of things there at The Sunflower House as well.
Kim: 08:16 That support is so critical. When you have, you’re working with someone, you’re having to take care of your wife, your husband, your parents. Many of us are in that case, even if it’s not day to day care, you know, we’re seeing family members with dementia and, and just having that resource of someone else who’s either going through it or has been there, right, is so important.
Paula: 08:39 Right. And the other thing that we’ll do through that program is called caregiver respite. So there are people that will actually come and stay with your loved one. So you can get out of the house and do a little shopping or just go have coffee with a friend. Because sometimes people really are so entirely responsible for that other person that they can’t get out. I just want to mention too that going back and looking at all of the things that we do, the underlying theme of all of our programs is to keep people living in their own homes for as long as possible. That’s why we deliver the meals. We provide the home care. We make the the house a little more accessible because they, people are more comfortable in their own homes. They want to stay home. It actually helps save an awful lot of money in our healthcare system. It costs about the same amount of money for a whole year’s worth of Meals on Wheels, home delivered meals as it does for one week in a nursing home. There’s a lot of different factors that go into why we do all the things that we do, but that’s certainly one of them.
Kim: 09:54 That’s a big goal. Staying at home is, is such a goal. And if you can, it’s wonderful. One of my grandmothers did have to go in a home. She had Alzheimer’s to a point where she was dangerous to herself and others. But my grandfather, her husband was able to stay home. I even in a wheelchair and we went in and, you know, fixed everything to where he could get around. And we had a lot of rooms in his house that didn’t have doors on them anymore. But that was okay because he lived by himself and, and it meant a lot to him that he was able to get around and, and stay in his home.
Paula: 10:34 Yeah. Yeah. It does it, it helps with, you know, we always think about aging as, as a physical process, but it’s very much a mental and emotional process as well. And I’m not just talking, you know, with dementia and, but when you, there’s a lot of loss involved in aging, like just not being able to do things that you used to be able to do. So if you’ve got people who will come in and be encouraging and be supportive and offer you things that, that allow you to stay in your home, you’re going to have that comfort level more than, than you would if you went into a facility where you just didn’t feel that comfortable. You know, I’m not saying that there are, you know, wonderful places out there and we need them. But again, just being able to stay at home is, is a wonderful thing.
Kim: 11:28 They’re beautiful facilities and great care. But as you say, it’s not home and home is where the memories are. Especially in a day when people lived in a home for, you know, 40 years or 50 years. Right. I haven’t never lived anywhere for more than two years. I don’t think I had a father who was an architect. So as quickly as he builds them, he sold them out from under us. But, but for a lot of people that’s not true. And you know, that’s where those memories and everything are. So it’s so nice that they can, one of the things I was just able to tour the Meals on Wheels facility and what, it’s a smaller kitchen than you would think folks. For, what is it? 1700 meals. How many meals a day?
Paula: 12:14 Yeah, 1500 to 1700 and it depends if they have a catering, it’s you know, another couple hundred more meals. Um, yes. So you’re talking about our kitchen and it was always known as the Brevard Community Kitchen. And it is astounding how many meals they can pump out of there every day with a staff, the size that they have. We have only 12 paid employees, staff members working at the kitchen, which is located in Cocoa by the way. Let me just give you a little a sketch of, of how that works. So the kitchen is really the hub of the nutrition program and five days a week there are people that come in starting at five o’clock in the morning to start home baking rolls to make it all the food that we make is made from scratch. Yes, yes. Some of it comes out of a can or it’s frozen, but it’s cooked on site and then we’ve got really an assembly line that starts about 9:30 in the morning and individually packaging each of those meals they’re put into a container that keeps them hot, sent out on trucks that go throughout the County and our volunteers come and pick them up and get them to our clients by, it’s between 11 and one every day.
Paula: 13:37 And that the logistics involved in that are pretty remarkable really because we’re delivering to, I think we’ve got 95 different routes now and I’ve driven a lot of routes in this County. It was, I had no idea this place even existed. You know you get down to Palm Bay and there are a lot of little neighborhoods down there, but we go everywhere and and deliver those, those meals. We also make meals for the Alzheimer’s Foundation’s daycare centers, and they’re located in Titusville, Melbourne, and Micco. We do meals for, particularly in the summer children’s daycare centers. We do other adult daycares and then we have all of our Seniors at Lunch sites, too. There are a lot of different places that we deliver those meals and the kitchen also has a program that we’re calling Catering with a Conscience. If you have a business meeting, say and you’re going to invite 50 people to your monthly meeting, and in fact we do have a lot of agencies or organizations that do that. We will come and cater your meal and this is chef prepared really good food and what you pay us. Any profit that we make beyond the cost of the food and paying our staff goes back into our nutrition program for the seniors. That’s one of our, one of our ways to make a little money to support some of the programs that we operate here at aging matters.
Kim: 15:12 I loved that you mentioned that I was going to bring up the catering because you know, it is a way that we can give back when we’re, you know, ordering I’ll meal for students or you know, I teach workshops or for business meetings. It looked fabulous. They focus on comfort food, everybody. So if you like the meatloaf and the mashed potatoes kind of stuff, Oh man, did it all. Look good. Next time. Go ahead and think of Aging Matters in Brevard for your business catering
Paula: 15:40 We also do vegetarian meals. We’ll do, we do chicken piccata and you know, it just all kinds of different things. Chef John is immensely creative and passionate about what he does and you will, you will get a good meal. You know, one thing I forgot to mention to you when we were talking about all of our different programs is a hugely important one. It’s called RSVP – Retired Senior Volunteer Program. And that was actually the original program with the community services council. So that is our oldest program and what this is, it’s an opportunity and it really is an opportunity for people over the age of 55 to volunteer. I think that we currently have just under 400 people that are signed up with the RSVP program. And of course those are the ones that a lot of them deliver our Meals on Wheels. But we also work with other agencies throughout the County.
Paula: 16:45 So we work with hospice of Saint Francis, which needs volunteers, uh, to, to work with their hospice patients. We work with United Way on their tax preparation program. Lots of different programs that need volunteers we can refer people to. That’s a really, cause you know, I would say 60 is the new 40 and if you do retire when you’re 62 or 65, trust me, you’re going to need something to do to fill that time up if you’re coming off being a full time worker and volunteering is just such a fantastic way to do that. You really get more out of it than you give. It’s not a trite phrase. It’s true because if you’re delivering a meal to 10 homebound seniors every Wednesday, you’re going to build a relationship with those folks and you’re going to be able to see how happy they are to see you because you might be the only person visiting them during the day. There’s a lot of benefits to volunteering
Kim: 17:53 And especially when you retired, as you mentioned, if you do retire, so many people end up in isolation because they aren’t out. They don’t have to go to work every day and they start feeling the loss of value that nobody needs me. And if you volunteer, then you can actually see that, that there’s value in what you do. I have a purpose. Everybody needs a purpose. That is a great, the great point and fabulous program to have on the Meals on Wheels piece, all volunteer drivers. What does that take? If someone is interested in becoming a volunteer through you, what would, what would they need to do? Right, right.
Paula: 18:34 Well, the first thing is we do have, um, a specific email address. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org So I’ll just leave out the “in’ and then or, or they could call our general number, which is (321) 639-8770. That’s the way to get in touch. We have five different distribution points around the County. If you live in Titusville, you would drive your own vehicle. You do have to have your own vehicle, your own insurance, um, but drive your vehicle to the lot next to Tire Kingdom on US-1. And if you get there by a little bit before 11 o’clock, Joy, who is our coordinator, we have a volunteer coordinator at each of our sites. She will give you your route sheet for the day. Most of our routes have about eight to 10 people on them, some a few less, some, a few more. Then our truck will come from the kitchen and all of the meals are divided up into containers with your route number on it.
Paula: 19:50 So you find your route number, make sure it’s the right number of meals, put it in your car and off you go. There are directions on that route sheet. A lot of people use their GPS on their phones or they’ve got the route memorize because they’ve been driving it every day for our every week for 10 years or whatever. And then you just go to the person’s home, bring them their meal, little container of milk, and you know, a cup of fruit and make sure that they answer the door. We never ever, ever leave a meal outside. We want to see the person that we’re delivering to and make sure they’re okay. That is part of being a Meals on Wheels volunteer. And then you just say hi and you can’t spend a lot of time, because remember you’ve got hot meals in your car and you want the last person on your route to have a hot meal too then you go to deliver and every meal on your route and then you bring the back to the distribution site again so that can get loaded back up in the truck and filled again for the next day.
Kim: 20:54 And you mentioned once a week. So it is not necessarily a five day a week commitment?
Paula: 20:59 Oh no, that’s, that’s an awful lot to ask of people. We deliver the meals once a day, but most of our drivers drive one day a week and even that can be a lot for some folks. We do have some groups, people who are working and their employer has said, okay, I support you in this. I’m going to give it, let you take an hour and a half lunch once a month on Thursdays and so if you’ve got a group of four or five people in your workplace, then you divide that up so that you know you’ll drive the first week of the month and John will drive the second week of the month, that sort of thing. Church groups will do the same thing. Generally speaking, it’s once a week. That is, especially if you’re retired and you know that and then people will say, Oh, but I travel, you know I’m going to be gone a couple of weeks in July or even for the whole summer.
Paula: 21:57 Okay. We can work with that because we have other people who are substitute drivers. I will say though that that summertime is a high, high need for volunteers for us because we do have a lot of snowbirds that drive during the season and then they’re, they’re gone. They’re back to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan for the summer. That’s when we need people to come in who are local that can take over those, those routes.
Kim: 22:24 And is there an age limit?
Paula: 22:26 You have to be 18 yes. And, and we do background checks. Want to make sure that you don’t have a, you know, a new DWI or something, you know, because you’re, you’re going up to people’s homes and we want to make sure that you’re safe and your trustworthy, uh, when you’re delivering that meal to that really pretty vulnerable older person. The upper age limit is however long you can drive safely. I know we have a couple because I rode with them who were in their nineties and we had one gentleman, ed kid who just passed away last summer at the age of 102 and he was still driving. He drove with his daughter who’s 79 but he was out delivering. Yeah, there really is. As long as like I said, you are, you’re a safe driver, we’ll put you out there, let you deliver.
Kim: 23:22 That sounds like a great thing for seniors to do. If they can still drive at that age. Wow. And uh, that’s driving longer than most people live 110.
Paula: 23:33 It gives people a purpose. Yeah. It, it gives meaning to your life to be able to contribute like that.
Kim: 23:40 And I like that you mentioned it’s also a kind of a health check in. You don’t just leave a meal. You’re making sure this person’s okay, that they can answer the door, that nothing seems awry even though you’re not spending too much time cause everybody else is waiting for their meal. It’s still that check-in.
Paula: 23:58 Absolutely. In fact, Meals on Wheels America, which is the national organization that oversees all these, all kinds of different Meals on Wheels programs has a slogan that they’re using now. It’s called More than a Meal because it really is, you’ve got a human being coming to your door putting eyes on you as we say. And especially if you know, get to know people over a period of time. You can see if there’s something off. And some of our volunteers have in fact discovered people who have fallen and they can’t get up or maybe they’ve had a heart attack or they’re unconscious and so we have her procedure for that. If somebody is supposed to be getting a meal and doesn’t and doesn’t answer the door, we will make phone calls until we can find that person and figure out what’s going on with them. Some. Most of the time they just forget to tell us they have a doctor’s appointment or they’re going out. Sometimes there really is a, a any emergency and so we, we make sure that they’re taken care of. Okay.
Kim: 25:06 And you mentioned falling, you’ve mentioned that a few times and that’s one where I turned 55 this year and I’m starting to think of those things. We’re building a house and actually having grab bars put into the showers because it’s just not worth it. I noticed it more not getting in and out of the shower. I noticed that when I’m cleaning the shower that the shower gets very slick and I want something to hold on to while I’m, you know, washing it out because a fall can really, when we’re younger, we don’t think a lot about it. But as you get older, the wrong fall can truly break your life for the rest of your life.
Paula: 25:47 Yes it can.
Paula: 25:48 Yes, it can. Particularly if you fall and break a hip, that can be devastating. Even if you don’t break anything or cause a severe injury, falling is really, it’s going to happen to one in three people over the age of 65 this year. That’s a lot. That’s 33% of older people are going to fall. And sometimes you know, it’s no big deal. You know, maybe you’ll twist an ankle or something. But what it does is it makes you so cautious after a certain point that you stop being active. And so that inactivity contributes to loss of muscle tone, loss of strengths, which in turn contributes to more faults. So it’s kind of this, this vicious cycle, but it really is something that you think, Oh, well I you, I’m in good shape. I, I work out and I eat right and I take care of myself.
Paula: 26:49 The aging process is going to continue no matter what you do. And so just having a little bit more awareness about what could happen is it’s not fear. We don’t want people to be fearful, but we want them to be aware, just aware of what might happen. Take things a little more slowly when you stand up, just hold for a second. If you feel that dizziness, just, you don’t need to go right away. It’s just a matter of being aware of your environment, aware of yourself, wearing sensible shoes, getting your eyes checked. All of those things enter into being aware of falls because people who have a chronic disease or maybe develop a disease, oftentimes it’s not that disease that’s going to end their life, but a fall night because you can fall and hit your head if you’ve had a hip fracture and you’re not using your Walker and you’re supposed to be using your Walker, all those little things enter into falls. Yeah. It’s a big, big deal. Billions of dollars spent on treating people for falls.
Kim: 28:05 As I said, that is not just for the super elderly.
Paula: 28:09 No, no, not at all. I’m 67 and I have really noticed in the last probably two to three years, just this, all of a sudden out of nowhere, I’m off balance and I’ve talked to other people my age. They said, you know, yeah. The same thing’s happening to me too. What’s that all about? I don’t know. It could be related to vision, could be inner ear. It could just be, you know that one, one side of your body’s stronger than not that I don’t know, but it does. Yeah, it does happen and that’s one of the classes that I teach is called A Matter of Balance. I can’t promote it too much because we never know for sure when we’re going to be able to offer it. One of our really great partners is the City of Satellite Beach and they have a program called Communities for a Lifetime and so they’ve made a real commitment to having educational opportunities, exercise opportunities for older people. So we’ve taught the class there are a number of times but we offer it throughout the County. One way to check and see is just go to our website and see if we’re offering it in your area and it’s free.
Kim: 29:26 Wonderful. Well thank you so much Paula for spending this time with me today folks. As you know, the links to the emails, her website and the phone number will all be on the SpaceCoastStories.com website and of course we post to Facebook when we go live. This one will go live the beginning of November and if you haven’t subscribed yet, go ahead and sign into your favorite podcast app like Overcast and we’d appreciate a subscription. Anything last minute that I haven’t asked you? Paula?
Paula: 30:01 I do want to say that a lot of people think that we are a government agency. We are not, we are a private nonprofit. We get government funding but it covers about 55% of our our costs, so that means we need to do fundraising like every other nonprofit and so we always appreciate donations. We have a great fundraiser in April called Passport, to Wines, big party, lots of fun and that is a, that is a big fundraiser for us. You know, whatever contribution we can, you can make, we always say $150 is going to buy a month’s worth of meals for a senior. That is one thing that we’re always trying to get the word out about as well. Thanks for that opportunity
Kim: 30:52 For those wine fans out there and make sure we’ll get that link on, the website. Also make sure you check that out because that could be a, sounds like a fun night.
Paula: 31:03 Great food, great wine tasting wines from around the world, an opportunity to buy bottles and cases. There’s music, there’s auctions. Yeah, it’s lots of fun.
Kim: 31:16 Sounds like a great event. Definitely my kind of event. I’m a wine kind of girl. Thank you again for being with me, everybody on the Space Coast. Thanks for joining me. I’ll see you next time with another interview with someone right here in our area. Bye.
Kim: 31:35 Join us next time for another episode of Space Coast Stories. You can find the show notes and other information at SpaceCoastStories.com. The views of the guests on this show are their own and don’t necessarily represent the views of the show owners, host or company. Thanks for listening to Space Coast Stories.