Pauline Rinehart has kept mostly to herself since her husband died four years ago, occasionally attending church but leaving as soon as services ended. Now 65, she is what she calls a "stand-in grandma," getting out just to help her grown children and grandchildren.
Rinehart says she has no social life and in a crowd feels like "I'm competing with the younger ones." But when she saw an advertisement that Anne Arundel County was opening a satellite senior citizen center near her home in Lothian, she decided to try it.
What she found when the center opened today at Wayson's Bingo Hall, just inside the Anne Arundel-Prince George's county line on Route 408, were friends.
"Several people I knew before just to say 'hi' to came up and shook my hand," she said, breaking into a broad smile. She quickly signed up to return next Friday for lunch, as did 31 others of the 40 seniors who came for the opening.
The center, which will be open each Friday, is the first satellite opened by the Anne Arundel County Department of Aging in a new drive to reach senior citizens who live in the rural outposts of this increasingly suburban county--people who live alone, such as Rinehart, and others who may not be getting enough to eat.
Satellite centers, where food and services are brought to seniors outside of the established senior centers, previously have been used in the rural areas of Maryland's Eastern Shore and western counties.
Nita Maggio, the county's director of aging, said her department has yet to identify how many local seniors actually are going hungry or have physical needs that are not being met. But she says she knows there are some through reports from county caseworkers. She hopes, she said, the satellites will help draw them out so they can be counted and helped.
The number of people over 65 living in Anne Arundel County rose by 57 percent between 1970 and 1980 to 25,085, increasing the demand for senior citizen services. At the same time, federal funds have not increased, and in the case of transportation funding there is less money. With no funds available for additional vans to transport seniors to existing centers, Maggio decided to go to seniors in their communities.
The county has no funds to build additional centers (it now has senior citizen centers in Glen Burnie, Arnold and Shady Side and six nutrition centers), so the Department of Aging turned to the private sector for help. Ed Wayson, an Annapolis attorney whose family owns a number of properties and businesses in the Lothian area, offered his bingo hall. The hall was located in an area determined to contain a large number of seniors who would not drive 15 miles to the nearest center in Shady Side.
Now, every Friday seniors here--poor or not--will have a place to go when Wayson's Bingo Hall becomes the South County Satellite Senior Center. It will provide senior citizens a chance to socialize and they will get a hot meal from Wayson's Restaurant (at $3.25 apiece paid by the county with federal funds). There also will be medical tests for such things as blood pressure and legal and moral support and educational classes from the Anne Arundel Community College and the YWCA.
"This means a lot to us," said Addie Yorkilous, 77, of Lothian.
Unlike the Meals-on-Wheels program, in which meals are delivered to senior citizens and handicapped persons in their homes, the satellite center is designed to get people out, Maggio said.
This year, Anne Arundel County is budgeted to spend $551,293 in federal funds to feed senior citizens 385 meals a day at its nutrition centers. In Maryland, $9.7 million will be spent to feed seniors at 255 centers across the state, figures compiled by the state Office on Aging show.