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Hyland's Virtual Bus Tour

Senior services is a two-way street in the years ahead.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland's "virtual bus" got an extra spin around the District this year, serving as the primary mode of transportation for his initial Senior Opportunities Forum last Saturday at West Potomac High School.

"Mount Vernon District has the highest number of seniors of any district in the County. And we felt it was appropriate to bring together information to help you," Hyland told the audience of nearly 100 seniors at the outset of the Forum.

With the advance of the baby boomers, the senior population throughout Fairfax County "will increase by 100 fold," according Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly who spoke to the group via a pretaped video.

Noting that the County's population has topped one million, Hyland urged those in attendance to make use of his staff if they have an issue or need County assistance. "Their salaries are paid by the County and they are there to assist you," he said.

"Today's bus tour will be a little different. We are going to stop at various locations and have people get on the bus to talk about the various services offered at those locations and in those categories," Hyland said.

With that he donned his familiar bus driver blue and white jacket and black cap and pulled the virtual bus onto his "information highway." First stop — Fairfax Area Agency on Aging directed by Grace Starbird.

SHE DISCUSSED all the services of her agency available to seniors such as home modification for increased accessibility, home visitations, Meals on Wheels, and an Insurance Counseling Program. "We have a whole raft of gadgets and gizmos to help everyone enjoy a better life at home," she said.

At the next stop, Steve Yaffe of FASTRAN and MetroAccess boarded along with Jeanna Muhoro, Department of Transportation. "Both FASTRAN and MetroAccess are geared to extend people's mobility. MetroAccess focuses on aiding people who can't get to the various mass transit facilities," Yaffe said.

Muhoro explained DOT's two primary senior oriented programs — "Seniors On The Go" and "Travel Training Programs." Travel Training is designed to aid seniors in the use of existing mass transit facilities to get to and from various destinations. It is the practical training side of Seniors On The Go, according to Muhoro.

Many times those travel plans include getting to and from a senior center which driver Hyland turned into for his next stop. As the doors swung open on came Dorothy Keenan, Senior Services Division Supervisor, joined by the directors from three centers located in Mount Vernon District.

"There are over 90,000 people registered with senior service centers countywide. Those centers serve over 900 senior each day," Keenan said.

"Each center provides a variety of activities and programs from dance classes to study groups to bridge tournaments and more," she said. "We are also studying trends for the future in preparation for the baby boomers."

Joining Keenan on the bus were Julie Ellis, director, Hollin Hall Senior Center; Angela Tibbs, director, Gum Springs Community Center; and Anne Miller, director, Lorton Senior Center.

"Ninety nine percent of the programs at Hollin Hall are run by volunteers. And we serve nearly 200 people per day Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.," said Ellis. To make her point she was accompanied on the "bus" by one her volunteers.

Gum Springs features a "Talk Show" every Wednesday on issues of the day, according to Tibbs. They also offer computer classes and a total fitness program.

Miller noted that the Lorton Senior Center is located in a shopping center increasing its access through mass transit. They also offer a computer class complemented by a computer lab and a course on "How to buy a computer."

THE NEXT STOP was for the necessaries. But, don't jump to conclusions. These necessaries were for staying in shape and physically active.

Leading the audience in an exercise routine that even had Hyland stretching and puffing was Carla Convery, an 86-year-old participant in the Senior Olympics. A Mount Vernon District resident, she qualified in May to participate in the upcoming National Senior Olympics.

After the calorie burn it was back on the bus with the next stop regional libraries. Included were Sherwood Hall and Martha Washington with an overview of Systems Access Services.

Kay Rzasa, branch manager, Sherwood Hall, explained that all County libraries are, in effect, open 24/7 through the use of the internet. Sherwood Hall Regional Library located on Sherwood Hall Lane is also the site of the Mount Vernon Farmers Market from May to September.

"The library system also has a magnificent collection of books on tape," Hyland said. This is a prime example of both the library system’s Access Program as described by Starr Smith and their Community Outreach services under the direction of Erica Hershler.

In juxtaposition to the sedentary pleasure of reading, Hyland's bus next stop was for recreation. Here Barbara Nugent, branch manager, introduced attendees to Trina Taylor, manager, Mount Vernon Recreation Center; Maria Dewing, manager, George Washington Recreation Center; and Sandi Dallhoff, a specialist in Theraputic Recreation.

Mount Vernon Recreation Center offers a full range of recreation opportunities while George Washington Recreation Center is primarily a large pool that emphasizes water exercises. "You can accomplish a lot more exercise in the water than on land," said Dewing.

If the exercise proved a bit over the edge there were the services of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital as touted by associate administrator Anne Rieger. Prior to her synopsis of the many innovative services at that facility, Hyland reminded the audience of the struggle to save the hospital as a full service facility over the past several years.

He thanked the audience for anyone who participated in that struggle. "We could not have done it without you," he said.

Rieger noted that 2006 marks Mount Vernon Hospital's 30th anniversary. Over those years, she noted, the hospital had become a leader in such treatments as wound healing through the use of its hyperbaric chamber located in its Wound Healing Center.

Referring to the recently approved Lorton Healthplex, Rieger said, "Our healthplex will act as a wing of Mount Vernon Hospital. It will also have 557 parking spaces, twice the number at our Springfield healthplex."

Other advances noted by Rieger included the first floor renovation project which comes before the Fairfax County Planning Commission in July, and the addition of more private rooms. "The success of the hospital in the future rests, in part, to provide more private rooms so that patients and their families can enjoy greater privacy," Hyland said.

With everyone in good health, Hyland's motorcoach made its final stop at the South County Government Center. There Ken Disselkoen, regional manager, Region One, Systems Management for Human Services Department, introduced a host of managers and supervisors who oversee services related to Adult Day Healthcare, Aging Services and Outreach, Adult and Aging Services, and Groveton Senior Center.

One of the newest services being offered by the County is aid to "Grandpartents Raising Children." Known as ElderLink it is headed by Colleen Turner, manager, Geriatric Care. "Most grandparents raising children are over the age of 65 and the children are under age six," Turner explained.

There are now over four million cases of this phenomenon in the United States, according to Turner. ElderLink offers support groups and a 120-page resource guide.

Finally, Dan Storck, Mount Vernon member, Fairfax County School Board, talked about how seniors can participate in the public school learning process. There are a myriad opportunities from volunteer readers to teacher aides.

"We don't have very much sharing of what it's like to live in different times. That is so important to the learning process and it's where you can contribute so much," he told the audience.

Prior to parking his virtual bus Hyland concluded the tour by stating, "We have 115,000 people in Mount Vernon District. Our most incredible resource is our people. I urge you to reach out and take a young person under your wing."

Prior to the commencement of the Forum attendees had the opportunity to visit with a wide array of exhibitors that ranged from "The Red Hat Ladies" to the Farirfax County Police and Fire & Rescue departments, to the Genealogy Society, and the Paul Spring Retirement Community.

As an added amenity, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital provided a mobile medical screening lab were seniors could receive free tests for such things as blood pressure and bone density within 15 minutes. There was a steady stream of participants throughout the morning.