Serving seniors is ‘best thing I’ve ever done’
Oak Park Township Senior Center Executive Director Desiree Scully-Simpkins. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 9:38AM
OAK PARK — For the past 20 years, Desiree Scully-Simpkins, a life-long Oak Park resident, has been deeply involved in senior services in Oak Park. It is her profession, her vocation and her passion.
For the past 12 years she has directed senior services for the township. Her dedication and effort were recognized recently by the Illinois Township Association of Senior Citizens Services Committee.
Scully-Simpkins, a Trinity High School alum who holds a BA in Psychology and a Masters in Gerontology, was named the committee’s Senior Director of the Year in November. She was recognized both for assuring a wide array of township services to seniors, and for her key role in transitioning the senior services operation into the new Senior Services headquarters building at 130 S. Oak Park Ave.
Also mentioned in the award was Scully-Simpkins’ “dedication and effort” on behalf of the Celebrating Seniors Coalition, which is busy organizing the third annual Celebrating Seniors week this May. It will include the 60-Over-60 program that honors the achievements and contributions of local seniors.
As part of that process, Scully-Simpkins works with an array of government, business and not-for-profit organizations interested in furthering the interests of our senior population.
She started as a case manager, then moved up to program manager and case management supervisor before her current role.
Q: What fostered your dedication to assisting older people?
A: In 1992, I answered an ad for a caseworker at Oak Park township. I found I loved the grass roots work. I remembering thinking, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.’”
A: These are older people who’ve been through it all. They should be respected and revered. And supported. . . . There’ a segment of the population that’s ‘aging in place,’ (staying in their homes). They want to stay at home and want the support we provide.”
Q: Tell us about your experience.
A: “I found that if you’ve actually done a job yourself, when you (supervise) it, you understand what they’re doing. Having that knowledge base, having done it, makes it easier for me (as a director.)”
Q: What changes have you seen in 20 years?
A: “Things were starting to happen (in the early 1990s), like with grants for programs. The caseloads have also changed. It used to be 65 people. Now it’s 125 to 150 people.”
Q: Why care so much about seniors?
A: They bring a lot to our community. We truly came from them. These people have been taxpayers for a long time.”
“My mom has lived in this community for 52 years, owned the same house. Has gone to the same church. Still has some of the same neighbors. When I tried to suggest she move to an apartment, her response was, ‘This is where I’ve been for 50 years. I don’t want to be anywhere else.’”
Q: You say the new building offers both better accessibility and visibility?
A: “It is a huge difference for us as far as people understanding that seniors exist in the community. For one thing, it’s at street level. And people can see in the front window. It’s kind of inviting, like a restaurant. Our lunch program (attendance) is up 40 percent.”
Q: Can our senior services be improved?
A: “There’s always room for improvement, but at this point, Senior Services does a really good job. We have relationships with non-profits, businesses and government. We’re all working together, trying to do a coordinated effort. We don’t want to re-invent the wheel.”
“As long as we coordinate all our resources, we can direct people to where they need to be.”