Protecting DeKalb County seniors

DEKALB - When you walk into the new location of Elder Care Services (ECS) of DeKalb County, the first thing you notice is the smell of fresh paint and brand new carpeting.

After 30 years on Grove Street, ECS has moved to a new location, 1701 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. The new location is 5,500 square feet - more than six times - bigger than the previous building.

"We are absolutely thrilled about the move," said Marshall Hayes, a board member of ECS who spent 17 years as the organization's director. "We used to dream about a place like this when were were cramped in such a tight space. Everything about this is a good move: the location, the size, the privacy, and especially the room to grow and the ability to expand programs. It's a dream come true."

ECS' previous location was also inconvenient because its proximity to other senior service organizations led to confusion. It shared its old building with Family Service Agency of DeKalb County's Senior Services Center and was across the street from the DeKalb Adult Day Care Center.

"A lot of people in the community do not understand who we are because of our previous location," Tara Culotta, the executive director of Elder Care Services of DeKalb County, said. "We are not a senior center, and we don't have cards or bingo. ...We help seniors stay at home, in a safe and healthy environment, as long as possible."

ECS is a nonprofit agency contracted by the State of Illinois that collaborates with other social services to provide programs and education for seniors and adults with disabilities throughout DeKalb County. Assessments and evaluations are conducted by professional case managers to determine eligibility.

"We never turn people away," Culotta said. "We refer them to another agency that can assist them appropriately. We always do what we can to help, and that includes giving them more information. ...If they want the help, we see how we can help them physically, emotionally, financially, and socially."

Caregivers and children of seniors can take advantage of options counseling, which helps plan and set goals for the senior's future.

ECS is also the only agency designated by the Illinois Department on Aging to investigate and intervene in cases of reported acts of abuse. ECS' adult protective services are available for adults aged 18 to 59 with disabilities and all seniors.

The agency also helps seniors apply for energy and legal assistance and care services such as adult day care, home health care, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and laundry.

Certified information and assistance specialists are available to talk about medical insurances,and financial specialists provide free money management, which helps seniors manage and budget their finances to keep them independent.

Information and assistance specialist Debbie Beranek said that she loves her job at ECS because it allows her to help people on a daily basis.

"Giving people information and help gives me a sense of satisfaction," Beranek said. "It changes their lives. Helping people at work makes me feel like I've done something worthwhile with my day."

According to Culotta, 16 percent of DeKalb County residents are older than 60. As baby boomers age, the agency has seen a 77 percent in the number of clients served at ECS over the past fiscal year, so the bigger location is a welcome, much-needed change.

"With the new building, we are able to expand," Culotta said. "There is a lot of room for growth and we can grow. The agency has jumped in growth and I see nothing but more growth in the future."

Culotta plans to further develop the aging resources center and adult protective services. She hopes to add to the 14-person staff and expand the internship program. The new building also has classrooms for education and training, private investigation and interview rooms, and a large room for meetings.

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