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North Shore Area Partners Celebrates National Older Americans Month and the Power of Connection

This year’s theme for May’s National Old­er Americans Month (OAM) is Powered by Connection. As May is also National Men­tal Health Awareness Month, I can see the theme encompassing both of these important times of observation.

OAM was established in 1963 by JFK and members of the Na­tional Council of Se­nior Citizens. It was called Senior Citizens month then but has evolved over the years.

Led by the Adminis­tration for Communi­ty Living, this year’s theme focuses on the impact meaningful connections have on well-being and health for older adults. A fig­ure provided by the Surgeon General’s office in an article ti­tled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isola­tion” claims that lack of adequate social connection is “as dan­gerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.” (This advisory can be found on the hhs.gov website.)

Loneliness is linked to cardiovascular dis­ease, hypertension, diabetes, infectious diseases, cognitive function, depression, anxiety, suicide, and other conditions. Stay­ing socially connected in communities is par­amount to a healthy older population.

North Shore Area Partners (NSAP), an organization found­ed in 2003 with the mission of provid­ing care for local el­ders by connecting them with communi­ty-based programs, is embracing this year’s OAM theme. Located in Silver Bay, NSAP’s service area includes Lutsen, Isabella, Little Marais, Finland, Silver Bay, and Beaver Bay.

If anyone knows about the power of connec­tion, it’s NSAP. “NSAP offers many ongoing programs intended to reduce the effects of social isolation by promoting socializa­tion and connection, as well as promoting physical health,” Sar­ah Thomson, NSAP’s Communication Coor­dinator, wrote in. This is evidenced in the myr­iad of opportunities offered through the organization for old­er adults looking for a safe place to engage with others.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, a Coffee Connection is held from 9:30 AM – 12:00 PM. There is a month­ly gathering at the Clair Nelson Center for Finland Commu­nity Meals. There’s a walking club, a craft group, and the Bone Builders Session. The community room also holds a treasure trove of puzzles, reading material, board games, a pool table, and plen­ty of seating. These are only a portion of the events and services of­fered at NSAP.

“It’s a pretty live­ly place,” said Mary Planten-Krell, who serves as president of the board at NSAP. Recently, the board had the task of finding a good fit for an execu­tive director. Lise Aba­zs retired after nine years and left very big and busy shoes to fill. Mary was happy to re­port that Kelly Lubey had joined the team, bringing with her a lot of experience in how to navigate the non-profit world.

Kelly told me that she is enjoying the role and the people that she works with have defi­nitely made her feel at home. “It’s a really good group of peo­ple to work with,” she said. “I feel very fortu­nate.”

With Mary’s many years of experience with non-profits along with the board’s, I have no doubt they have good taste in leaders. Mary’s been on the board since 2020 and has watched the organization grow from a one room office in the Mary MacDon­ald building in Silver Bay to a community center in the former Wells Fargo building. She had worked in the non-profit world and, when she moved to the area, inquired with NSAP about oppor­tunities to volunteer. Lise recommended her for the board.

“It seemed like a really good, well-run organi­zation and usually if an organization is well-run, they are probably doing good things,” said Mary. “I under­stood immediately that the overall goal was to help older people stay in their homes. There is a whole ton of older people here who have lived here a long time, would like to stay in their homes, and with a little bit of help they can do that.”

A little bit of help could take the form of a ride to a doctor’s of­fice or help picking up groceries. Sometimes it is being able to bor­row from the commu­nity closet where med­ical equipment, like walkers, is available. Moving into the larger building has created a space to gather. “We send people out to pro­vide services in peo­ple’s homes,” Mary said. “Now people can come to us and do things with other peo­ple. It’s really a place people can come and enjoy their passions and meet people of all ages.”

Intergenerational pro­gramming is beneficial for both young and older people. Several online sources regard­ing the subject speak to how children who interact with older adults have shown in­creased learning and social skills. In older adults, interacting with children can lead to increased self-esteem and well-being, includ­ing improved memory function, mobility, and sense of connection.

NSAP supports an age-friendly commu­nity and has teamed up with the Silver Bay Public Library and the Northland Foundation to help with reading programs. Reading Pals has been con­necting older adults and school age kids to share the love of read­ing together for three years. Every other week, throughout the winter school season, volunteers sit and read with 3rd graders. It’s something both gener­ations of the spectrum look forward to.

Summer Reading Pals runs a little differently. It’s a travelling pro­gram. This summer, it will be at the Silver Bay Public Library on June 25th at 2:00 PM. On July 9th, the event will occur at NSAP. Next up, the group will meet at the Veterans Home in Silver Bay on July 23rd and round off the series on August 9th at Carefree Living. The group reads together, works on a craft, and then has a snack over the course of an hour.

“It’s a great program,” said Stacy Hohman, who is the volunteer program coordinator at NSAP. “All kinds of good stuff comes out of Reading Pals.”

She told me about the Finland daycare and that she is a frequent participant in the program. There is a babysitter that brings her charges, a young teen who vol­unteers, and the 20 or so older adults that are part of the program. She encourages those interested in being a part of Reading Pals to reach out to her at 213-353-1391 or stacey@nsapartners.org. (Note: Dates are tentative. Please contact Stacey to confirm.)

You can also reach out to the library and ask for Shannon Walz at 218-226-4331. The partnership with the li­brary is critical to the program. “Shannon is a huge huge part of it,” she said. “She does a lot of the planning of the snacks and crafts.”

Reading Pals came from AGE, which is a group that encourages intergener­ational activities. It is a grant funded program that includes outings with older adults and kids. The group goes to Bentleyville near the holidays and in August, they take a special trip to Wolf Ridge.

Another way NSAP supports with connec­tion is by offering sup­port groups and one-on-one support. There is a Parkinson’s sup­port group, an in-per­son or virtual caregiver support group, Care Connections, a grief support group, a care­giver support group, and caregiver consult­ing. These and other programs provided by the organization are to help older adults over­come obstacles and ac­cess support systems. NSAP also has a social worker on hand who works hard to address the needs of clients and caregivers. Ericka Blanchard, LSW, helps individuals navigate their changing needs as they age. She has as­sisted with things like service coordination, caregiver consulting, assistance with paper­work and referrals, re­source assistance and advocacy.

There is a new oppor­tunity for those car­ing for loved ones or neighbors. Eligible caregivers in NSAP’s service area can re­ceive 4 free hours of respite care services per month throughout June 2025. Accord­ing to the organiza­tion’s Facebook page, respite care provides short-term relief for caregivers, so they have time to relax, run errands, or catch up on things. NSAP has been offering respite care services as part of their home care pro­gram that allows home health aids to step in to give caregivers time to recharge.

The home health aides can help with tasks such as light house­keeping, meal prep, shopping, transpor­tation arrangements, reading, opening mail, laundry, bathing, eat­ing, and many other ways to provide com­passionate care to the one who needs it and the caretaker who needs it, too.

NSAP encourages in­dividuals to experience the benefits of connect­ing by inviting more connection into your life. Find a new pas­sion, join a social club, take a class, or find new activities in your community. They also advise investing time with people to build new relationships and discover deeper con­nections with family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors. You can check out NSAP’s website at nsapartners.org for more informa­tion about any of the above-mentioned op­portunities and much more.

Another great way to connect is to volunteer your time to support­ing NSAP’s mission. Along with many vol­unteer opportunities, the board is looking for 3 more members. “We’re looking for people who have ideas and enjoy the possi­bilities of expanding what we do for older people,” Mary said, and relayed that she’s found being part of NSAP and their mis­sion to be extremely rewarding. “It’s the best thing that Silver Bay has going, as far as I’m concerned. Who wouldn’t want to be on the board of that?”

Reach out to the organization at 218-226-3635 for more information on how to get involved at NSAP.

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