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Edwards re-appointed chairman of ADSS

VALLEY — On Tuesday, former Valley City Councilman Ray Edwards was appointed to another term as board chairman of the Alabama Department of Senior Services (ADSS). Edwards has been with the board for 16 years and has served as its chairman for the past 12 years. He was appointed to the position twice by former Gov. Bob Riley, once by former Gov. Robert Bentley and now by the current governor, Kay Ivey.

“I am grateful to continue serving as chairman,” Edwards said. “I want to keep on being an advocate for seniors in this state. I think we have accomplished a lot in their behalf in recent years. Under the leadership of Gov. Ivey and our commissioner, Jean Brown, I’m confident we will continue to do so.”

There’s an estimated 1,065,625 Alabamians who are 60 years of age or older. That’s more than 22 percent of the state’s population. Over the next 20 years, it’s estimated that the state’s 60+ population will increase by more than 40 percent. Four-fifths of Alabama seniors have at least a high school education; more than 20 percent of them have college degrees. A total of 322,026 Alabamians who are 65 or older have at least one disability. Over 20 percent of the state’s veterans who are over 65 have at least one disability.

According to ADSS Commissioner Jean Brown, Alabama seniors have a variety of needs such as getting assistance with their prescription drugs, being able to participate in the state’s meals program, Alzheimer’s and dementia initiatives and a geriatric dental project.

“In short, our goal with ADSS is to promote the dignity and independence of those we serve through a comprehensive and coordinated system of quality service,” Brown said.

“She told us that our number one goal for this year is to get our food service issue straightened out,” Edwards said.

Valley Foods of Montgomery provided the service for many years. In 2019, though, GA Foods of St. Petersburg, Florida got the contract by providing a lower bid.

“We had a lot of problems with them,” Edwards said. “Sometimes the items were mixed up, sometimes they weren’t what they should be and sometimes the food was late getting to a senior center. The commissioner fined them $421,000 for their first quarter performance. They got off to a really bad start. They did get better over the course of the year.”

GA is well paid to provide food service in Alabama.

“We serve six million meals at the centers and to the homebound every month,” Edwards said.

Edwards commended Brown and Deputy Commissioner Adam Thompson for making unannounced visits to senior centers to make sure the seniors are receiving quality meals and service.

For Edwards, the fair treatment of seniors is a calling.

“I’ve cared about this my entire life,” he said. “I can remember having fun with them when I was the manager of a Bruno’s grocery store in Sylacauga. We had a senior band who made their instruments from items they bought at the store. We also had an Easter bonnet parade with the bonnets being made from items bought at the store.”

When Edwards was elected to the Valley City Council in 1984, one of his first goals was to have a senior program. “We started it at the Baptist church in Langdale,” he said. “We had it there for a year before moving to a house in the Fairfax mill village. We did a lot of work on that house to turn it into a senior center. We were there up until we opened our new center. It had the feel of a good home, and everybody liked it. People who visited our senior center from around the state told us they liked it and that we were fortunate to have it.”

The problem was the senior program outgrew it.

The mill village home wasn’t bad, but the new place inside Valley Community Center is one of the best senior centers for a city of Valley’s size that can be found anywhere. The old center could comfortably serve around 40 people. The new center can easily accommodate twice that many.

Seniors who participate there also have the convenience of being inside the Community Center, where they are within easy walking distance of SilverSneakers classes, a fitness center, walking track and indoor pool.

“I have wanted our seniors to have a center like this for a long time,” Edwards said. “I want to thank Mayor Leonard Riley and the current council for following through on it. The issue we have now is transportation. There are people who live outside the city limits of the senior centers we have in Valley, Lanett and LaFayette. I know there are seniors out there who would love to participate but have no way of getting there. I’ve been talking with Commissioner Debra Riley about this, and I think we can work something out.”

There’s currently a waiting list for eligible seniors to be included in Valley’s meal delivery program. One way to include them is for the seniors who are living at Sylvia Word Manor to participate in the Valley Senior Center program. That would free up 15 slots for the delivery program.

“We want to serve as many seniors as we can,” Edwards said. “My goal is to do anything we can to help them.”

As the ADSS board chair, Edwards said he is looking forward to an Alabama Senior Day, to be celebrated on the capitol lawn on Wednesday, April 8.

“It will be going on from 10 a.m. until noon,” he said.

“We expect to have 500 to 600 people there.”