Senior Services of Island County was a spin-off of HELP, Inc., which was organized in 1969 and had been operating 24-hour crisis line since 1970. HELP was organized in south Whidbey by volunteers composed of clergymen from three churches, a retired social work supervisor, several local businessmen, and others skilled in community organizations. Among those involved in the new organization were Marian Howe, Cecil Monson, Margaret Wallace, Phil Bleyhl, Ernest Noble, Larry Thiel, Eleanor Fortson, Sid Butrom, Leland Parker, Father Burnett, and Paul and Eadith Linderman.
In 1971, HELP expanded to include central and north Whidbey and was incorporated as a private non-profit agency. A special committee, formed to study the needs of Whidbey Island’s elderly residents, approached the University of Washington and obtained the services of a graduate student from the School of Social Work who served an internship with HELP and was successful in writing and obtaining two federal grants:
- A Law and Justice grant to provide counseling for troubled youth
- A Senior Nutrition grant to provide congregate and home-delivered meals to the elderly.
In 1975, the programs serving the elderly were separated from HELP and a newly incorporated agency called ESIC (ESIC) began operation of both programs. A special committee was formed to study the needs of Whidbey’s elderly residents. The study phase lasted approximately three months, and the following needs emerged as the most urgent:
- Relief for trying to plan, buy, and prepare a balanced meal to eat alone and the acute feeling of isolation this caused.
- Home Health assistance.
- Relief in the cost of health care.
- Information and referral services.
Although the survey indicated that approximately 50% of the elderly surveyed had difficulty managing on their limited incomes and 30% met the Federal Poverty Guidelines, the problems were not restricted to low-income elderly. The committee consisted of members of HELP, many interested citizens, and members of the group forming Senior Services of Island County. Members came from all over Island county to tell the committee what it was like to be old and along on Whidbey.
One 91-year-old, low-income gentleman told how he handled his nutritional problems. He said although hunger was physical, he could control it by his mind and by careful expenditure of energy. He gave an example of his attendance at the meetings. On the day of a meeting, he would eat a sandwich with coffee, but on days he did not nave to expend a lot of energy, he would only have coffee and water. He was talking about his total daily food intake.
One affluent, 82-year-old widow lived in an isolated area and had failed to renew her driver’s license. She told of her difficulty in handling her nutritional problems and of her solution. She found she no longer had the energy or the memory to enable her to prepare an edible meal, even though a neighbor was willing to shop for her. She had tried TV dinners and found that she frequently forgot they were in the oven and had a fear of burning her house down. People began calling on her as often as three times per week, so she asked them to drive her to a restaurant and be her guest at a meal. She would then order double portions and take a doggy bag home for days when no one came.
A 90-year-old, low-income gentleman did not want to deal with the subject publicly and sought out a committee member and told of being hospitalized twice for malnutrition. He could not afford an adequate diet, so he research the nutritional content of various pet foods and found Gaines Meal dog food provided a fully balanced diet and that he since begun using it, he had been quite healthy.
An 80-year-old woman extolled the nutritional value and palatability of canned cat food. She stressed the convenience as well as the cost.
The research was complete. The potential clients had been candid. Volunteers had dwindled to a few, but the few that survived the research phase were tired but committed.
To raise funding to help with developing the grants and other expenses needed, an organization called La Vie Montante was formed consisting of local seniors, including Cecil Monson and Walter and Ruth Johnson. The organization raised funding for several years and was a great help in providing matching funds for the early programs.
On September 30, 1975, a meeting was held to discuss ideas for programs and services they would like to see available to Island seniors. Those attending were Walter Johnson, Margaret Wallace, Ernest Noble, Rev. Lawrence Thompson, Ralph D. Nichols, Art Hatton, Leland Parker, Lola Broeker, Herman Broeker, Robert Sizer, Ermel Sizer, Major Meyers, Clarabel Mercier, Leona Potvin, Eleanor Fortson, Robert Miller, Paul Linderman, Si Butrim, Marian Howe, Kaye Herner, and Dr. Thomas Corlew. Eleanor Fortson was a member of the Washington State House of Representatives and Chair of the Health and Social Services Committee. She said that hearings would be held at the next session, and she would probably ask members of this committee to appear in Olympia.
The objects and purposes of ESIC, as stated in the Articles of Incorporation, are as follows:
- To function as a planning body for identifying the needs of the people of Island County.
- To organizes, operate, and maintain social and health services and various programs for the people of Island County and any other activity, trade, or business furthering such program.
- To receive and administer gifts and grants of money and property of every kind for the carrying out of the purposes of the organization.
ESIC served not only seniors but also the disabled, and, as new programs were developed, served citizens of all ages.
On May 21, 1975, the first annual meeting was held. The Board consisted of 14 members and later added 10 more. Each agency related to Senior Services was represented on the Board.