SANDPOINT — If there is anything Ellen Weissman enjoys most about her job at Sandpoint Area Seniors, Inc., the laughter and singing she hears every day take the top spot.
“I will be sitting in my office and, all of a sudden, there will just be this burst of laughter from the card players, or somebody cracked a joke,” Weissman said, adding that on Thursdays they sing before lunch. “We have a great pianist and I just love it — I love hearing the music.”
Today, Sept. 15, marks five years since Weissman became the executive director of SASi. Coming into the position was all about timing, she said. A friend of Weissman’s, who was a SASi board member at the time and had served with Weissman on the teen center board in the past, ran into her one day and told her that she “would have been perfect” for the job. They had just hired another woman as executive director, however, so Weissman told her if the position opened up again to let her know, thinking it could be a few years down the road. The new executive director only lasted six or eight weeks.
“She came back and said, ‘It opened up,’ — it was awesome,” Weissman said. “Timing is everything.”
In talking about timing, Weissman said getting the job was not the first or last time things just worked for her. It is page 80 in the “Tao of Pooh,” she sid. The book is written by Benjamin Hoff and combines the Taoism philosophy with the characters from A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh.”
Page 80 states that “Those who do things the Pooh way find this sort of thing happening to them all the time … things just happen in the right way at the right time. At least they do when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,” and trying hard to make it happen some other way. If you’re in tune with the way things work, then they work the way they need to, no matter what you may think about it at the time.”
And so began the legacy of SASi’s five-year, and counting, executive director. Being a long-time educator among other talents before coming to SASi, Weissman said she likes to say that her “kids are 80 and 90 now instead of 8 and 9.
SASi is a “vibrant” place, she said, where people can go to dance, or play bridge, pinochle, bingo and, of course, laugh and sing. Some of the groups that meet throughout the month include an Alzheimer’s support group, a poetry group and the Widows Helping Widows group, and there are occasional guest speakers on topics such as Medicare as well.
People who currently visit the center on a regular basis range in age from 50-98, though Weissman said the only time there is a distinction in age is for meal prices. For a lot of the older people who spend time at SASi, Weissman said they are in “very” good health and live longer because they have stayed active.
One of SASi’s programs is the DayBreak Center, which provides quality daytime care for individuals with memory impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease. It also provides respite for the families and caregivers of the individuals. It is a “really” important service, Weissman said as she described how full-time caregivers have cried in her arms from the relief the center provided.
Another SASi program Weissman highlighted is the Home Delivered Meals program, where volunteers deliver home-cooked meals to isolated seniors. While some of the volunteers have been doing it 20 to 30 years, which she said is “amazing,” SASi is always looking for more drivers or substitute drivers, who would use their own cars and their own gas to help out.
There has also been a lot of projects at SASi over the years to keep the facility in shape for all of the programs that it provides. One of the first big projects Weissman said she took on when she started at SASi was to get a parking lot improvement grant with the help of Steve Drinkard. And saving the big tree while redoing the parking lot was “huge,” she said.
“It was a big experience to figure out how to do the parking lot and save the tree, because that grandmother tree is so beautiful,” she said.
She has also received grants for kitchen and other upgrades to the building, and just this past week, the garage was cleaned out by Idaho Forest Group employees who volunteered to help out for the Day of Caring. Some of the stuff had been in the garage, just sitting around, since before she got to SASi, so it was a relief to have it all go, she said, much of it to Goodwill.
Through some of the projects, grant writing and other initiatives, Weissman said she has “learned so much,” over the years. For example, when the parking lot improvements started, Weissman said she knew nothing about construction, and just the other day, she learned about oven regulators.
“I believe in learning new things all the time,” Weissman said. “I’m an educator — I try to get kids and adults to learn stuff every day. But I have learned stuff I never imagined.”
One thing coming up at SASi that Weissman said she is excited about is a visit from the Idaho Commission on Aging, which will be hosting a public meeting to provide area residents an opportunity to comment on the state’s four-year Senior Services State Plan. ICOA helps fund programs such as home delivered meals, senior transportation, respite, legal assistance, adult protection, ombudsman services and more. ICOA staff will talk about how funds are distributed as well.
“It an honor to host them, and it is an opportunity for any age person to give input about aging issues,” Weissman said. “You don’t have to be an elder to come to this.”
The public meeting will start at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 24 with information tables, followed by lunch at 11:30 a.m., and a community input and brainstorming session at 12:30 p.m. For those who will be attending for lunch, reservations are required by Monday, Sept. 23. For lunch, a $4 donation is suggested for people 60 and older, and the cost is $8 for those under 60.
Information, a full schedule of events and the menu for the month can be found on SASi’s website at sandpointareaseniors.org. Weissman also encourages people to sign up for the monthly newsletter by calling the senior center at 208-263-6860 to provide an email address, or pick up a hard copy in person.
SASi is located at 820 Main St., Sandpoint.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.