Thirty years. Thirty years. Thirty years? No matter how I say it, to myself or to others, it seems incredible to me that I’ve been working at Iona for thirty years. I really don’t know where the time went. It makes me afraid to blink.
When I first came to Iona, my office was in a converted bathroom in the former parish house of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church. There was a wooden platform covering the tile floor. The sink and toilet and showerhead had been removed, and I had a working window looking out towards the church. The desk fit perfectly into the shower stall, my clock fit in the soap dish, my bulletin board hung from the towel rack, and I felt so lucky being at Iona that I didn’t mind at all (and we had another staff member working out of a closet, which wasn’t as nice as my converted bathroom). We were called Iona House, which was a bit problematic. People either thought they could move in with us (we’ve never been a residential facility) or that “I own a house.” “Oh,” a woman said to me one time when I said the name, “You live in the neighborhood.”
So what’s different and what has stayed the same in my thirty years?
The commitment of the staff to provide the best care, support, and opportunities to older adults and family caregivers has not changed. The belief that all people have strengths and that we should build on those strengths is and always has been central to our core. The understanding that good people who had good jobs can end up in dire situations because of rising expenses vs. fixed incomes is still a given. And we continue to be a “lead agency” through our very important partnership with the DC Office on Aging, serving as the anchor organization for the Office on Aging supported services in Ward 3 and parts of 2 and 4.
And what has changed?
Outside resources are often scarce, such as funds to provide emergency rental assistance for someone at risk of eviction; and the process of enrolling in public benefits such as Medicaid for our most low income clients is much more complicated — just to name a few.
But, there are good changes too. First, Iona has become more nimble, reaching more broadly into the community with our services, and better responding to changes in the ways people want to age and the needs they are experiencing by creating new programs. Just a few years ago, we launched our popular Take Charge/Age Well Academy for Baby Boomers, and we continue to expand our consultation offerings for adult children seeking guidance as they try to help aging parents and for older adults themselves who want to better prepare for their future. And I feel too that the world is catching up to Iona. For so many years it seemed like a struggle to get people to understand our services and their importance, but now I feel more energy and urgency around services for and needs of older adults and family caregivers.
The biggest changes in these past thirty years, however, might be my own! I am aging in place at Iona — as my colleagues don’t hesitate to remind me. I feel very certain that my path with Iona has been the right one for me, and hopefully for Iona. It may sound like a boring path to many of you out there, and there certainly have been ups and downs along the way, but it has been exciting and interesting and at the end of every day, I get to go home knowing that the staff and volunteers at Iona have done good work, that they brought relief to a stressed out caregiver, delivered a meal to a hungry, isolated older adult, worked on an art project with a person with dementia and much, much more. I can’t imagine wanting more than that.
By Sally S. White
Sally joined Iona as an intake specialist in 1986. Since that time, she has worn many hats including deputy director of programs and services, director of Iona’s adult day health center, director of quality management and — since 2009 — executive director. With a strong commitment to advocacy and improving the quality of life for all older residents of the District and beyond, Sally is instrumental in the leadership of the city-wide DC Senior Advisory Coalition, which she co-chairs, and the DC Coalition on Long Term Care.