Tommie Farr

Senior Connection staffers Jovita Pina, left, and Katie Phillips flank World War II veteran and frequent Senior Connection visitor Tommie Farr, as seniors Jimmie Brown and Tom Wynn, right, contribute to a lunchtime discussion Wednesday.

The Senior Connection in Hailey has expanded operations quickly in recent years to keep up with a burgeoning population of elderly citizens in the Wood River Valley.

The nonprofit senior center was recently awarded a $142,760 grant to remodel portions of its busy and well-used building on Third Avenue.

The Senior Connection touches the lives of 70 percent of the 4,226 people in Blaine County over 65, providing lively group lunches, meals on wheels, transportation services and fitness classes.

The Community Development Block Grant funding, awarded by Gov. Brad Little, will be used to refurbish parts of the Senior Connection’s base of operations.

An entry vestibule, maintenance closet and the front desk will be upgraded. An existing meeting room will be turned into to a full-fledged Senior Information and Resource Center.

“This is where staff can help clients or family members navigate longevity for themselves or a loved one,” said Senior Connection Executive Director Teresa Beahen Lipman. “And we will hold their hand doing it by helping them fill out applications or online forms.”

Beahen Lipman recently provided an update on Senior Connection activities to the Hailey City Council. She said the organization serves 22,000 individual lunches for seniors each year and provides 4,000 rides to destinations around the valley. The work of the organization is supported by 3,500 volunteer hours each year.

To provide such comprehensive services, the Senior Connection budget has increased from $577,490 to over $1 million since 2016, an increase of 73 percent.

Blaine County’s elderly population is rising faster than the national average. From 2010 to 2016, the number of people age 64 and above has grown by 22 percent, Idaho’s by 30 percent and Blaine County’s by a staggering 53 percent.

“We have more people calling us all the time,” said Senior Connection Community Relations Manager Ramona Duke, who wrote the grant application with help from Blaine County Grants and Procurement Specialist Lyn Drewien.

Duke said the Senior Connection received a similar grant in 2012 for a kitchen remodel, and another in 2010 for an expansion of the building.

The renovations and expansion of services in Hailey seems to be attracting more customers for Senior Connection services. Beahen Lipman said the number of “regulars” has increased from 600 to 750 since 2016, in part to enjoy the cooking of Chef and Nutrition Director Erik Olson.

A host of caregivers are associated with the Senior Connection. The Connection Club is an adult day/memory care respite program for those living with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairments and their families.  

“Our clients enjoy mentally stimulating activities in a safe environment and their caregiver/loved ones get a much-needed break,” states the Senior Connection website. “We eat lunch, play bingo, make art, solve puzzles, take walks and bike or rickshaw rides.”

The Senior Connection grant was one of 14 Idaho Community Development Block Grant awards and one Idaho Rural Community Block Grant that will be distributed to benefit community development, assist with downtown revitalization and improve senior centers in cities and counties throughout Idaho.

All grant awards are reviewed and recommended by the Economic Advisory Council and final approval is granted by the governor.

“Idaho Commerce is focused on helping our communities and their citizens improve their local infrastructure and quality of life,” said Idaho Commerce Director Tom Kealey.

“[The grant] awards expand opportunities for Idaho communities to succeed and thrive, improving the state’s overall economic health,” he said.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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