senior projects

Johnson County Senior Services helps solve problems
By Jenny Elig // Photography submitted

Put yourself in the shoes of some of Johnson County’s most vulnerable community members: senior citizens. You’ve gone through life relying on yourself as your primary resource. Now, as you head deeper into your golden years, you find you need a shoulder to lean on. You can still do most of the work, but you need help.

But where will that help come from? And how long will you have to wait for assistance?

Enter Johnson County Senior Services, a not-for-profit organization serving the older adults of the community. The organization works with a mission to provide free, essential services that will enhance the quality of life for older adults by helping them live with dignity, maintain their independence, remain at home as long as possible and avoid or lessen isolation and loneliness.

JCSS offers crucial services — such as medical transportation, medical equipment and food distribution — to an often-overlooked population. “This amazing generation is the most underfunded, underserved and by far the most unappreciated, vulnerable demographic throughout our county,” says Kimberly Smith, JCSS executive director. “The senior population, as well as their needs, are growing exponentially, and we must get in a position to help even more. This great generation paved the way for all of us, and they deserve so much more.”

Critical needs
JCSS’ services are life-saving, says Jenny Brebberman, board president. At present, it offers the only free, door-to-door transportation throughout Johnson County to people 60 and older, transporting them to treatment, medical and nonmedical appointments. It also provides free, durable medical equipment.

“Individuals would literally perish without the services we provide,” Brebberman says. “JCSS is not only important to our community, it is essential to our county. That in itself is a priceless gift to this precious generation.”

Along with information and assistance, JCSS maintains a food pantry of nonperishables and household items. Food is delivered once requests are made, and bi-weekly bulk deliveries are made to several locations. JCSS is the only agency in the county that delivers food to the homes of food-insecure individuals. In addition, agency staff and volunteers provide much-needed personal products and incontinence items.

And there are the elements that go beyond basic needs, the components that remind people that they are cared for. JCSS has those covered, too. “We also have a Christmas program called Seniors Still Believe in which we delivered Christmas gifts to 1,010 seniors year end 2019,” Brebberman says.

The beginning
The noble agency had humble beginnings. “Over 40 years ago in 1979 in the basement of a church, a group of concerned citizens got together to discuss the greatest challenges that seniors were facing,” Smith says. “At that time the greatest need was transportation, and fast forward to today the greatest challenge that older adults are facing continues to be the need for transportation. (JCSS) has filled a niche in the community that is essential to enhancing the quality of life for older adults, all free of charge,” she says.

Today, the organization that serves so many seniors is run by Smith — the only full-time staff member — plus 12 part-time drivers and dispatchers. Some 400 volunteers help JCSS serve the ever-expanding needs of Johnson County’s senior population. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization helped an average of 5,000 people each month. Since March, JCSS has helped more than 10,200 each month, Smith says.

Such an exponential increase underscores the needs the senior community faces. Brebberman hopes to raise awareness of that need. “There is a multitude of seniors suffering in silence throughout Johnson County,” she says. “We need to continually raise awareness and funds to care for this amazing generation.”

JCSS is only partially funded for transportation through government funds, such as Older Americans Act funds, Johnson County Commissioners, and the cities of Greenwood and Franklin, among others. “We are also funded through private donations and fundraisers,” Brebberman says. “Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 all of our fundraisers for this year had to be canceled, resulting so far in a loss of $167,000. All of the other programs that we offer are all funded by donations and whatever blessings are bestowed upon us.”

To new beginnings
At present, the organization works out of a small house built in 1855. “(The building) is not only compromised, it is also entirely too small to accommodate the extreme needs of our county’s most vulnerable,” Brebberman says.

But that will soon change, she says. For the past five years, JCSS has run a building campaign to raise funds for a new 5,000-square-foot building, a safe and functional space that will also enable staff and volunteers to serve thousands more than the current location allows.

Along with a gift of 1.33 acres from Crosswinds Church in Whiteland, JCSS has $420,000 in its building fund. An additional $100,000 will help the agency complete the project; Brebberman is confident the money will come, and building completion is projected for October.

“We had our ground-breaking ceremony on June 18, and on July 2 the excavation began,” she says. “We took a leap of faith to begin the project. Needless to say, we are continuing to research funding opportunities as well as individuals who may have a heart for the seniors suffering in silence throughout Johnson County. And perhaps there may even be a business or an individual who would like to make a substantial donation to have their name on our building.”

More than food, rides or personal products, JCSS provides local seniors with that sense of ease that comes with knowing you’re being cared for. Greenwood resident Roselyn DeCastro contacted the agency 11 years ago. Wheelchair-bound herself, Roselyn needed reliable transportation that would get her mother, Rosie DeCastro, to and from dialysis on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. JCSS signed Rosie up right away. Now, she rides to dialysis in a JCSS van; if Roselyn accompanies her, they ride together in a bus. “Senior Services is dependable,” Roselyn says. “The minute you call them, they don’t say no. They make it work.”

“The one thing I know is they help me take care of my mom, which is the most important thing in this world to me,” Roselyn says. “They help me take care of her. As for my mom, they give her peace of mind. She doesn’t have to worry about somebody driving her to and from dialysis.”

Johnson County Senior Services is located at 731 S. State St., Franklin. Information: (317) 738-4544,