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Claremont continues to add key services for seniors

Since 2008, funding from the Older Americans Act has declined, despite the spike in the nation’s senior population. The result has left cities across the country with no choice but to make cuts to senior programming.

Claremont, however, has taken a reverse approach.

While many cities downsize, one way Claremont has added to its senior services is with the addition of Ashley Nielsen, the city’s case manager for older adults whose sole job is to provide free services and case management to Claremont’s senior population.

Claremont is one of few cities in the region that still offer such a resource. Hired by the city in 2012 through a local nonprofit, Community Senior Services, the social worker spends much of her 35 hours a week at her Joslyn Center office, where locals are welcome to drop in or make an appointment for advice on anything from termite control to medical guidance. When she isn’t in the office, Ms. Nielsen makes visits to seniors at their homes.   

Case management is only one aspect of the multi-layered work Ms. Nielsen performs as the city’s social worker. When not counseling senior citizens, she is working as the director of the city’s Family Caregiver Support Program and overseeing six local support groups, which range from providing aid to caregivers of loved ones suffering from dementia to those taking care of a child with a disability.

As if she doesn’t wear enough hats already, she helps coordinate the Senior Companion program matching seniors to other older adults for a cup of coffee or an afternoon chat, as well as the stroke support group and senior discussion group, which also encourage social interaction.

Ms. Nielsen is a one-stop shop for the aging, a task that can be overwhelming, but part of that goes along with being a social worker, she admits.

“The amount of work I see could be for two to three people,” she said. “I do 80 hours in a 30-hour time frame and am constantly ‘go go go.’ Today for example, I forgot to eat lunch.”

Needless to say, social work is a career for the passionate and Ms. Nielsen remains steadfast in what she does regardless of what it may entail.

“I forgot to eat lunch,” she laughed. “But helping people, especially those who feel so vulnerable, can be so rewarding. Every day brings something new.”

After receiving her master’s in social work from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Ms. Nielsen began working with victims of domestic violence and assault, as well as with offenders. Previous to her post in Claremont, she was providing in-patient sex offender therapy within the prison system in Nebraska.

She was thrust into a new role upon returning home to California, where her mother was providing end-of-life care to her ailing grandfather. Watching her mother’s triumphs and struggles inspired her to take social work into a new direction, that of giving back to her community.

Ms. Nielsen felt a call to help both caregivers and seniors find the resources they need. With a background in social services, Ms. Nielsen was uniquely qualified to give back, but she admits it was an adjustment.  

“I have worked with youth and worked with adults, but haven’t worked for older adults so it’s been a huge learning curve for me,” she said.

Now a year into her post serving the people of Claremont, she has found her niche in helping seniors and caregivers navigate the opportunities their community has to offer, particularly in a city where, despite cuts to funding, senior services remain prevalent.

“A lot of individuals don’t know how great a resource their senior centers are,” Ms. Nielsen said. “Whether it’s housing, medical, insurance or social needs, there are so many things a person needs to maintain or improve their quality of life.”

In a recent visit, Ms. Nielsen helped Pomona resident Don Berry find relief for his back pain and solutions for his current living situation. Ms. Nielsen has been a great resource and support system, according to Mr. Berry.

“She helps to give you some hope,” Mr. Berry said.

Funds may be growing scarce as the senior population increases, but Ms. Nielsen hopes to help fill the gap wherever she can, even if it means a busy schedule.

“My services are open to anybody, locals and those out of state with parents in Claremont with no clue how to get help,” she said. “I want them to know I’m available. Education leads to awareness, and awareness leads to action.”

Ms. Nielsen can be reached at Community Senior Services at 621-9900, ext. 233, at the Joslyn Center at 399-5488, ext. 107, or by email at anielsen@communityseniorservices.org. Locals may drop by her Joslyn Center office Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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