The Osceola Council on Aging is a 501 (c)(3), private, non-profit charitable organization that is dedicated to providing services to enable independence and self-sufficiency for seniors, disabled adults, the disadvantaged and families in poverty. Since incorporating in 1971, the agency has become largest provider of human services in Osceola County and has established a 45 year history as a trusted agency that is mission driven. Over 2016, the Council served more than 164,000 people with the support of 210 employees. All services are administered through the Barney E. Veal Center, located at 700 Generation Point, Kissimmee, FL 34744.
The Council began as a senior service agency, housed in one room of the old Osceola County Courthouse with minimal staff, a small team of volunteer and the capacity to serve 25 home-bound seniors with home delivered meals prepared by St. Cloud Hospital. The original Board of Directors consisted of three local citizens from St. Cloud, three from Kissimmee and another three from the senior living community now known as Good Samaritan – Kissimmee Village.
The Barney E. Veal Center was constructed largely with local funding (about 85%) garnered through a spirited capital campaign and the support of the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners. The only “outside” funding came through a large grant obtained from the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation that was honored in the naming of the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Adult Day Health Center, also located at the Barney E. Veal Center.
The stability and success of the Council has stemmed largely from two important designations: (1) as the lead agency for Community Care for the Elderly and (2) as a Community Action Agency, which are both funded through the State of Florida. This ongoing support allows the Council to administer an extensive array of more than 30 supportive services that alleviate poverty, promotes community health, furthers self-sufficiency and prevents homelessness. The most requested programs include: housing, healthcare, nutrition assistance, transportation, in-home care, rent/mortgage & utility assistance and a bustling senior center with a plentiful offering of recreational, wellness and social activities. The Council also operates a free health clinic for Osceola County residents that are uninsured or underinsured with the volunteer efforts of more than 50 healthcare professionals.
“The Council changes people’s lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities and makes Osceola County a better place to live. We care about all generations and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other”, said Beverly Hougland, Chief Executive Officer of the Council. Beverly continued, “When people receive services from us, we ask them to also pay it forward. We also encourage our seniors to give back. They can do so by mentoring an at-risk child, conducting a food drive or volunteering to deliver Meals on Wheels”.
Wendy Ford, Director of Housing and Finance explained further, “Many of our low-income seniors who live at one of the Council’s five government subsidized rental complexes, where they are able to live affordably and access the Council’s various services. A lot of the seniors have started their own little charities, including one lady with a talent for needlework that makes stuffed toy animals, hats, gowns and lap blankets for preemie babies and cancer patients. It’s great to see these caring seniors receive recognition and awards for their contributions.”
“I am honored to work with this agency, because it gives me satisfaction to enable individuals to come together as a community and collaborate to give back”, says Carmen Carrasquillo, Chief Operations Officer. “We have volunteers and staff members from other agencies and businesses that come to us every day, asking ‘What can we do?’ Not everybody realizes it, but there are significant needs in our community. It is a passion of mine to connect these volunteers and donors in a way that addresses the needs among families, seniors, the homeless, children and the disadvantaged. I’m in awe of all we are able to accomplish when we collaborate as one to make things better for this community.”
Wilda Belisle, Director of the Council’s Meals on Wheels Program, has a unique perspective in serving seniors and disabled adults who are unable to leave their home without assistance. These frail individuals need more than two home delivered meals a day; they need the personal contact and reassurance of a daily visit from a caring volunteer. A personal conversation, a hug and checking on a client’s well-being are all vital aspects of the program to help clients feel loved and secure. “This is a passion of mine”, says Wilda, “but the staff gets all the credit. They do this because they truly love and care about our clients. Beverly (Hougland) has been my inspiration. She started out as the Director of the Meals on Wheels Program, so whenever she has an idea, I want to do it”, Wilda concludes with a smile.
Connie Benca, Chief Financial Officer relates her own personal experience as an employee of the agency. “When I became a staff member of the Council on Aging, I gained a new perspective on this community. Even though I had previously served on the Council’s Board of Directors, I began to see the clients we served face to face and I came to care about many of them as much as any friend or family member. Right now, we are providing services to veterans through a new program called Homebound Heroes, where we provide home repairs to elderly and disabled veterans that help them continue living safely at home.” “This is a very honorable program that the Council coordinates, but we couldn’t do it without partners like The Home Depot Team,” said Benca.
Osceola Woman asked, “How did you continue after the 2008 recession?
2008 also marked the first time that the Council had to place eligible clients on a waiting list because we did not have the means to immediately provide services. Some funding was provided through the federal government. Homes were also donated to the Council through the City of Kissimmee Neighborhood Stabilization Program to be maintained as low-income housing for families in need. Significant funding was supplied through Weatherization funding through the American Recovery & Re-investment Act to help low-income homeowners make their homes more energy efficient. Home assessments conducted by the Council helped eligible Osceola County homeowners determine how much their inefficient appliances, windows, insulation and lack of weather stripping was costing them per month.
Seeking additional grant funding became a priority and carefully targeting that funding to address the greatest needs was a strategy developed by the Council’s Board. In addition, private fundraising became a much more vital part of the agency’s annual budget. The Council’s Annual Benevon was established during this time with a goal to tell the Council’s story to a broad base of community leaders, donors and volunteers. Invited guests are the first to view the Council’s annual video that includes notable clients stories and agency highlights for the year. Different programs are highlighted each year to further expand public knowledge of the Council, our mission and those we service.
The Osceola Council on Aging is a beacon of hope in an age where there is so much inhumanity. We can all lend a helping hand and be our brother’s keeper. Find out how you can make a difference by becoming involved. You may call 407- 846-532 or visit www.osceolagenerations.org