Al Gilmour stumbled across a gem for bringing together professionals in the elder services industry while on a business trip to Olympia. Three years later, Spokane County has a similar group to network and build businesses and services that specialize in aging while also raising money to help local seniors in need.
The Senior Action Network of Eastern Washington has about 55 members, most of whom braved a cold, stormy morning Tuesday for the monthly meeting. It’s a typical networking group with a variety of members from care facilities, home health and funeral homes to attorneys, financial planners and real estate agents specializing in senior transitions. So far this year, individuals have made nearly 300 referrals to other member’s businesses and services, said President Mendy Neff, who also works for Providence Senior and Community Services.
For example, board member Kathy Bryant, a real estate agent specializing in seniors, often refers her clients to elder law attorney Lynn St. Louis for help setting up wills and other estate planning tools.
The idea is to ensure members know what is available in the Spokane area and to get to know other professionals they can make solid referrals to best help seniors. Each month the network hosts a speaker to help educate everyone about a certain business or issue.
This month St. Louis, the elder law attorney, touched on how to help families preserve their assists for loved ones while navigating veteran’s benefits and Medicaid rules.
“I love this group,” St. Louis told the members. She called it a “safe group” where like-minded professionals come and share a common passion for serving seniors.
Yet it isn’t all about building business and making sales.
Gilmour, who has worked in the senior living industry for 20 years, currently for Guardian Angels Home Care Spokane, said serving seniors in need is at the heart of SANEW. That’s why he knew Spokane needed a similar group after he attended a couple meetings of the Senior Action Network in Olympia that serves Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties.
“People just couldn’t keep quiet about it,” Gilmour said, remembering when he returned to Spokane with the idea. “We need to stop talking about it and get this thing going. There was so much interest.”
The first Spokane meeting was in October 2011. Interest was immediate and membership keeps growing. The network has two large fundraisers each year including the upcoming Cooking for a Cause Sept. 19 at the Lincoln Center. To raise money, chefs from the area’s senior living communities prepare sample cuisine and attendants “judge” the food and select a top chef.
The money raised from last year’s event sent three war veterans to Washington, D.C., with Inland Northwest Honor Flight to visit memorials dedicated to U.S. veterans. This year the funds will go to Meals on Wheels, which serves more than 20,000 meals each month
Every spring, the nonprofit also does a lasagna feed to raise money.
The network has donated to Meals on Wheels, Catholic Charities and SNAP. Last summer when the temperatures soared, members delivered fans and water to low-income seniors. They also deliver Christmas presents and help the elderly rake their yards in the fall.
In May, the network provided a picnic lunch of fried chicken and macaroni salad to residents of Cathedral Plaza Apartments on Sprague. More than 50 residents attended and members delivered another 50 meals to homebound residents.
“People are so appreciative,” Bryant said. “We all have a really deep caring for seniors.”
Potential members must apply and gain acceptance to the network. Gilmour said it’s important to have people who take the service mission seriously and show up for work days and fundraisers.
“We take the whole process so seriously,” he said.