Demand for services exploded in 2020 at Colorado Springs nonprofit that serves seniors

Demand for services exploded in 2020 at Colorado Springs nonprofit that serves seniors

By Erin Prater | Dec 31, 2020 Updated Jan 2, 2021

Seniors in Colorado Springs and around the world battled two horrendous, relentless foes in 2020: A new, sometimes lethal virus that disproportionately targeted them, and the isolation that ensued.

That’s the contention of Derek Wilson, chief strategy officer of Silver Key, a local nonprofit that aims to help seniors age safely, with dignity and independence.

The effects of the pandemic on its constituency were seen “almost overnight,” he recounted — and they were startling.

“We saw the demand for every service we offer increase,” he said.

In a usual year, Silver Key helps seniors in three critical areas: transportation, meals, and health and wellness.

This year, it was more of the same — much more of the same.

“We don’t have a waitlist for any of our services, but caseloads for our case managers are becoming unsustainable,” he said. “We’re not there yet, but it’s getting dangerously close.”

The organization aspires to go above and beyond with every act of service, offering not just essentials like warm meals and reliable transportation, but kindness and companionship that can lift spirits and save lives, Wilson said.

“Social isolation kills — it rots the soul to the core, produced cognitive decline,” he said. “Folks get to that place of desperation and despair. They say it’s a silent killer. It is in many ways.”

Take transportation, for instance — one area in which the organization prides itself on offering extra.
Silver Key drivers offer what Wilson calls “Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant door-through-door assistance.”

“We don’t simply pull up and honk the horn,” he said. “We actually help them into the doctor’s office, or wherever that may be, get them signed in, talk to them, make sure they understand when we’ll be back.

“A lot of times passengers are repeat customers. We get to know them and look for changes in a person, if they seem to be experiencing a cognitive decline.”

If passenger seems “off,” a referral will be placed with the organization’s health and wellness team, which can step in and coordinate assistance, Wilson said.

That assistance may come in many forms — from the big, like behavioral health services and guardianship, to the seemingly little, like “bright, uplifting” phone calls made by staff. Over the course of the pandemic, the demand for the latter increased by more than 600%, Wilson said.

Perhaps no service Silver Key offers is so symbolic of its mission as the warm meals it serves to seniors each week via its Meals on Wheels program.

Demand for meals from the organization has seen “tremendous growth” over the past year, Wilson said, growing from a need for about 7,000 meals a month to nearly 15,000 meals a month this year — with “the same staff, the same kitchen.”

“I don’t know if it’s a bragging point that we’re able to help so many people in need, or if it’s just sad,” he said.

This year, donors met the organization’s need, as it met the needs of local seniors.

While 2021 brings the promise of a widely available vaccine to end the pandemic, he asks community members to remember that the crisis is far from over — and that its economic effects will linger.

In short: “Don’t forget us.”

“Don’t let up now,” he said. “Don’t stop giving whatever you can. Even that monthly gift of $10, $20 can make a massive difference — that’s steady, reliable income for us, with which we can plan so much better.”

Aging, he reminds, is the “one unifier.”

“It will come to us all.”