The Fairfax County Area Agency on Aging is seeking contributions from the elderly for transportation and other services as part of a plan to cope with limited funding and rapidly growing service demands, director Carla B. Pittman said yesterday.
"You are in effect running a business to serve the older person," Pittman told a group of agency directors here for a national conference sponsored by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. "If you serve them effectively, give them quality services, older persons will contribute back as much as they can -- because they don't want a gravy train."
The Fairfax agency accepts contributions, but officials recently stepped up efforts to solicit donations to help offset rising costs stemming from increases in the county's elderly population. To attract donations, Pittman said, agencies on aging should establish ways for the elderly to contribute. The funds then can be plowed back into maintaining and expanding senior services.
Speaking before about 30 agency officials at a session on planning the future of agencies on aging, Pittman said the agency also is working to expand opportunities for the elderly to function as volunteers and paid employes in Fairfax.
More than 500 people from local agencies around the nation have registered for the four-day annual national conference, which began yesterday. The association, established in 1973 to give local agencies on aging a voice in federal policy-making, traditionally has provided technical assistance and training for its members.
At the workshop, Pittman described how she had taken over as director of the Fairfax agency five years ago and quickly concluded that "we were really in trouble."
Among other things, Pittman said, many of the elderly were unfamiliar with the Area Agency on Aging and the services it provided. Because its initials are AAA, "people thought we were the automobile club," she said.
An assessment of the county's aging needs and resources was necessary to help her agency "get a better handle" on services for seniors in Fairfax, Pittman said. A Fairfax citizen task force chaired by Jarold A. Kieffer, former deputy commissioner of Social Security, spent months studying the needs of area elderly persons and compiling recommendations for ways to maintain and expand services, she said.
The 100-page task force report, completed last November, has helped make the agency more visible and provided a blueprint for action, Pittman said. The proposal for expanded use of senior citizens as volunteers and paid employes was a major theme in the report.
"But remember that you live in a glass house," Pittman said. If an aging agency urges the hiring of seniors, "then you must take the lead with senior employment."
Fairfax County's population includes about 79,000 people aged 60 and over, Pittman said. The agency, established by the county Board of Supervisors in 1976 under the federal Older Americans Act, has 25 employes and 15 volunteer workers.
The agency's fiscal 1988 budget is $2.7 million, with about 40 percent of the funds coming from federal and state allocations. The other 60 percent is provided by county funds and contributions for services, such as transportation, employment counseling and assistance, meals and publications.
Pittman cited efforts to seek funds to help finance the Golden Gazette, the agency's monthly newsletter. Each issue contains a notice suggesting donations of $5 or more.
This month's Gazette also includes an item soliciting donations for the agency's Fastran transportation service, which provides door-to-door service for essential shopping, business and medical appointments for qualifying seniors.
The item suggested that Fastran users contribute $2 for each round trip to help defray the estimated $10 cost. Contributions "should in no way impose a financial hardship on you," the item said.