662-843-3432       MAILING: PO Box 117, Cleveland MS 38732       OFFICE: 125 S. Court St., Cleveland MS 38732

April 23, 2024

Sunny Seniors

Beneficial program began in 2003

By Aimee Robinette

The Bolivar Bullet

The aging process can often be unkind. It can bring about numerous illnesses both mental and physical. In fact, more than 6.2 million Americans aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2021, with 72% are 75 or older.

It is a tough situation for both caregiver and sufferer. As memory loss sets in, there is difficulty completing familiar tasks and trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Those are only small samplings of the symptoms.

Fortunately, there is help in Bolivar County.  Sunny Seniors is a respite program for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. 

“We meet on Mondays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at 107 South Victoria Avenue, which is the Calvary Episcopal Church office building,” said Kay Daugherty, co-director. “We are so thankful to this church for allowing us to meet there all these years.”

Sunny Seniors was formed in 2003 by Diane Arnold and her sister, Ginna Simpson.  

“It was started with a grant by the Mississippi Department of Mental Health/Alzheimer’s division and the Mississippi Alzheimer’s Association. This grant expired early in 2009 about the time Diane and Ginna both moved out of Cleveland,” she explained. “Sunny Seniors then formed a Board of Directors and received its 501c3 tax exempt status.” 

Daugherty and Carolyn Via were named co-directors after serving as volunteers for several years. 

“I got involved with Sunny Seniors a couple of years after retiring from teaching mathematics for 22 years at Bayou Academy. One night at church, Diane talked about the program and asked for volunteers. I thought it sounded like a good fit for me and I was right. I love working there and love our friends who come,” said Daugherty. “I love getting to know their personalities, finding out what brings big smiles, and what gets them engaged with us the most. Carolyn got involved when she moved across the street from Calvary Episcopal church and noticed the activity twice every week.” 

Daugherty said after asking questions, Via began volunteering and instantly fell in love with the work. 

“One of her favorite things about her workday is the sense of community that is present when they all gather around the table for conversation and various activities,” said Daugherty. “We both enjoy getting to help the families and caregivers by providing respite.

Daugherty said the main goals are providing stimulation that allows people functional independence for as long as possible. 

“We want to help slow memory loss through socialization and therapeutic activities,” said Daugherty. “We use lots of humor – we are fun! Our daily routine of activities includes devotional, a seated exercise program, musical bingo, a giant crossword puzzle that we work together, music and crafts. I want to give a shout out to some of our volunteers. Laurel Waldbieser comes every Thursday to sing and play the piano for us.  Our friends especially love the old familiar hymns they grew up singing.  I would also like to thank Keith Pettway and his pet therapy dog Abby for visiting us each week.  During the school year, the Delta State softball team adopted us as their charity, and two of their members come every hour that we operate to visit and help as needed.  We are so grateful for all our volunteers!”

Daugherty said Sunny Seniors is funded almost 100% by donations, and like other organizations, Covid 19 was hard on Sunny Seniors. 

“Due to the various health conditions prevalent in the people served by Sunny Seniors, we had no other option but to close our doors temporarily.  Our staff is fully vaccinated and we are taking all precautions necessary to keep our clients safe.  Before Covid, we held an annual fundraiser which was a Benefit Dinner with several well-known chefs, each preparing one course,” she said. “These events were spearheaded by Chef David Crews and were truly amazing nights of food and fun.  We were unable to host our fundraiser the past two years, which has been hard financially, but are looking forward to hosting this special night once again in the spring of 2022. We also receive memorials and other donations throughout the year.   

Daugherty said their biggest challenge is finding those who can benefit from their services and getting them to come. Even after being in operation for 18 years, there are many in the area who do not know about Sunny Seniors and what they have to offer.  

“Word of mouth is a great way to spread the word.,” she said. “Please share our info with anyone you know that might benefit from our ministry.  We are excited to be back in business and look forward to new referrals.”  

Daugherty said Sunny Seniors serve a specific need in the community and many caregivers have verified they are indeed a lifeline for them – giving them a much-needed break as they care for their loved ones. 

“We have learned that brain stimulation for our friends is what keeps them going.  We have many trivia and question books that ask for short- and long-term recall.  It’s amazing what they are able to remember and blurt out when asked to fill in the blanks!  Every effort is given each day to show love and maintain dignity to each person in our care,” said Daugherty. “Our strongest desire is to reach each person and get a laugh or smile or memory that brings them pleasure for that moment.  Carolyn and I love our job and pledge to give each of our friends the best care possible.”

To find out more about Sunny Seniors, contact Daugherty at 662-719-9911 or Via at 662-719-7048.