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Where caring is cultivated

Neighborly Care Network celebrates 40 years of offering services to seniors - rides, Meals on Wheels, day programs.

Published May 6, 2006

LARGO - If it wasn't for Neighborly Care Network's Largo Adult Day Center, Bob Gess would be at his wits' end.

His wife of 48 years, Valerie, has Alzheimer's disease. And Gess, 68, now has to cook, do the laundry, cut the grass and do the shopping. If he uses the bathroom, he has to double-lock the front door to make sure his wife doesn't walk out.

But because Valerie, also 68, attends the Largo center's adult day care program five days a week, Gess said he's free to take care of the things around the house, and to go to his doctor appointments.

"I'd be a basket case if I didn't have a break," said Gess, who lives in Seminole. "I do all the washing, ironing, shopping. She has no clue about that part of life anymore. This just really helps me."

In celebration of 40 years of providing services to older residents, and in conjunction with May being Older Americans Month, Neighborly Care Network hosted a shindig Friday for its 35 participants, with cake, gifts, balloons and sparkling white grape juice in champagne glasses. And for entertainment, there was an Elvis impersonator in a white cape and sparkling green cummerbund.

Residents danced, clapped, sang and laughed.

"We've had 40 years to make life more fun and exciting for citizens," said Peggy Donofrio, the Largo Adult Day Center's manager. "We sing, dance, play bingo, play trivia games to stimulate the mind. Day cares help keep people out of facilities and keeps them with their families."

In April 1968, Pinellas-based Neighborly, which had been around for two years by then, opened the nation's first adult day care center and started the first federally funded Meals on Wheels program. Today, Neighborly operates four adult day care centers and delivers about 1,700 meals a day.

Neighborly also has 36 vehicles specially equipped to take seniors to medical facilities, shopping and to day care centers. There are 15 senior dining sites throughout Pinellas County. There is also a gift shop on Omaha Circle in Palm Harbor, called Shoppe Around the Corner, in which all the proceeds benefit Neighborly and its work with older county residents.

Marsha Coke, director of Day Care Services, said about 78 percent of caregivers in the program are working caregivers, meaning they have other jobs. Also, "a lot of people would not be able to continue employment if wasn't for adult day care.

"But our participants enrich our lives also. We are able to get insight and history. We become a family," she said.

Largo's center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Participants range in age from 60 to 98.

Part of Friday's celebration was to observe Older Americans Month, which was established in 1963 and originally named Senior Citizens Month. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter changed its name to Older Americans Month.

Donofrio read a resolution from President Bush that recognized the month and complimented the older Americans for their continued contribution to the country.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2004, an estimated 20 percent of Pinellas County's population was over age 65, compared with 12 percent in the United States. By the year 2030, there are expected to be 71.5-million people over age 65 in the country - double the current number.

With those numbers rising, Gess said programs such as Neighborly's will be an asset to everyone.

"This is good for Valerie, too," Gess said of his wife. "She can come here and relax, she can sing, it keeps her active. Without this, she'd be sitting at home in an armchair waiting for me and the cat."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or

[Last modified May 6, 2006, 02:15:18]

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