Cobb Senior Services celebrates 50 years of serving those 55 and older.
By Lindsay Field Penticuff
Movie days, Spanish classes, cooking lessons, transportation to and from doctor appointments, line dancing, on-site gyms and wood carving are just a few of the many, many offerings from Cobb Senior Services.
“Research shows that learning new things and doing a lot of activities helps as you’re aging,” says Jatunn Gibson, PhD, agency director of Public Services, which includes the Cobb County Department of Senior Services. “We try to be really mindful of where our seniors are, what they are asking for and how we can provide that for them.”
This year marks 50 years since Cobb Senior Services was started. Initiated by a grant in 1972 and originally named the Marietta Cobb Community Service Center, it was created to unite senior citizens of Cobb County by providing a forum for communication, recognition of outstanding senior leaders, and a common meeting place. Five decades later, the program offers seven senior center locations throughout Cobb and an abundance of services, including information and referral, case management, transportation, in-home services, home-delivered meals, volunteer services, community health education, and a Veteran’s connection. There are three nutrition sites in Austell, Marietta, and North Cobb.
For Kathy Lathem, strategic partnership manager with Cobb Senior Services, the department is the “best kept secret in Cobb County.” In fact, she was so passionate about it, she left a career in radio 17 years ago to join the team after learning all about what Cobb Senior Services does to better serve the 55-plus community in Cobb.
“I’m out all day, every day talking to groups and individuals about what we offer for the 55-plus community, but we are also here to help children who are helping mom and dad navigate aging,” Lathem says. “Our main goal is to help people age in place and avoid going to assisted living as long as possible.”
Oftentimes, Lathem hears that family members aren’t sure where to turn to until there is a crisis. Bringing awareness to the community before that time helps so many in need, and that’s why her messaging, and sharing the recent 50th anniversary celebration, has become so important.
“Most people think that because they aren’t a senior, they don’t need our services,” she says. “But when the time comes and they need to make decisions for themselves, a loved one or someone who lives in their neighborhood, then they have that seed planted in their mind and they know that Cobb County has an organization that can help with that. …The more I am out there, the more Cobb Senior Services is visible in the community, and the more people realize that when there’s a need, there’s a place to turn.”
Lathem goes on to say that Cobb Senior Services should also be everyone’s first phone call — and hopefully their only phone call — when searching for senior services. “We have contracts with in-home care companies that offer services we can’t offer, so we are joining hands with local organizations to provide that service and provide what people need,” she says.
Growing, and growing fast
The 55-plus community is the fastest-growing population in the United States. Every single day, there are approximately 10,000 baby boomers turning 65. This is why it continues to be so important for Dr. Gibson and her nearly 100 employees working in Cobb Senior Services to offer an abundance of opportunities and services to the 55 and older community.
“If we’re not providing that service and paying attention to the fastest-growing population in Cobb, we would lose a lot of people. It also draws their children,” Dr. Gibson says. “Cobb is growing and our seniors are very, very important. They are also our largest volunteer base when you study the data on volunteers.”
She adds that their most beneficial programs and services to this quickly growing age group include home-delivered meals, transportation and care managers, in addition to the senior centers themselves. “When the COVID-19 pandemic happened and we had to shut down our buildings, we heard from our seniors about how important it was for them to socialize and have a place to gather and meet with their friends, learn things and participate in activities,” says Dr. Gibson.
This is why the Cobb Senior Services team continues to go above and beyond after 50 years, and Dr. Gibson says they are thriving because of the incredible staff and their passion for working with seniors. “We listen to our seniors and offer them what they are looking for. Then, we provide a place where they can come in and have their own space to feel welcome and the staff knows them,” she says. “That makes them feel better.”
And if you’ve not had an opportunity to visit a senior center yet, run — don’t walk — to check one out. “You’ll be so surprised, and impressed,” she adds.
So, what’s on the horizon for Cobb Senior Services? One thing Dr. Gibson says they will continue to work diligently on is helping to safely expose seniors to more technology. “Technology classes are on the rise, and it’s because we are listening to our seniors,” she says. “We also have offered classes on how to safely call an Uber, use the Uber, and get back home.”
In addition, they are working closely with AARP to share more information about health education and programming with seniors. “As you’re aging, your health is very, very important to you, and if you’re in a situation where we are spending a lot of time not understanding, we tend to shy away from those things,” says Dr. Gibson.
There also is some consideration into how to offer more services on the weekends, as there are many activities that seniors are interested in participating in, but they may need the transportation support if they are unable to drive or find a ride.
Lastly, they are focused on working more closely with veterans. “We have a coordinator who is working to provide more services, including helping veterans register for services that are available to them that they don’t know about,” Dr. Gibson concludes. “Our veterans services is a new group on the horizon, and we expect it to grow. They served our country and we want to be able to help them.”
Connect with Cobb Senior Services
Volunteer services: 770.528.5381
Community health education: 770.528.5350
Veterans connection: 770.528.1448
Home-Delivered Meals: 770.528.5364
In-home services: 770.528.5364
Information and referral: 770.528.5364