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“I had no idea.” That’s the reaction of many first-time visitors to the Center for Active Seniors, Inc., surprised by the bright, welcoming center crowded with smiling seniors and bustling with activities. “That should be our tagline,” quips Laura Kopp, president and CEO of CASI, the one-of-a-kind, one-stop shop for Quad Cities seniors celebrating its Golden Anniversary this year. The Davenport-based CASI boasts a history of progress and service that stretches back to even before its founding in 1973. Along the way, this small, nimble organization has helped nearly 250,000 adults and their families successfully navigate the ever-changing aging journey. And it does it these days by charging its members only $30 a year, or $2.50 a month. That’s a bargain for the host of services provided at what, Ms. Kopp said, is one of just two nationally accredited senior centers in Iowa and the only independent not-for-profit senior center in that state. Its biggest funding sources include government, grants and generous donors. “Whether you are 50 years old and caring for a parent with dementia or a 60-, 70-, 80-, 90- or 100-year-old looking for fun, fitness, fellowship and activities, CASI has you covered,” she recently told the QCBJ. Aging, she said, is “a really long journey with many trips and turns and I think having opportunities for folks to access whatever they need to age in place is one of the better things that we do.” And even though it gets funding from Davenport and Scott County, CASI serves the entire Quad Cities senior population – including both sides of the river. Unfortunately, however, as CASI prepares for a year of celebrations that kicks off with its official 50th Birthday Celebration on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at its 1035 Kimberly Road location, its leaders face a large financial shortfall. That’s due to the loss of $700,000 in earned income during CASI’s year-long, COVID-19 forced closure and the pandemic’s continuing impact on daily senior attendance. That loss is more than half the $1.3 million annual budget for the 40,000-square-foot facility which serves as a lifeline for many seniors. If new funds aren’t found, it could impact the center’s services and activities for active seniors; its ability to help those with Alzheimer’s Disease stay at home via its adult day care center, Jane’s Place; and a free senior advocacy program which every year helps 2,500 Quad Cities seniors to live independently. CASI also is facing an increased demand for services for seniors who were isolated for 18 months during the pandemic, never venturing out of their homes to go to a grocery store, doctors’ appointments or even to walk their dogs. “The result and the impact of prolonged isolation like that is significant and we’ve seen suicidal folks we’ve had to take directly to the hospital and other folks we’ve just had to work with very intensely,” Ms. Kopp said. The center also has seen a rise in senior homelessness as federal and state housing programs disappeared. Recently, CASI staff discovered a couple living in a van in the center’s parking lot. “They are proud people,” Sue Rector, CASI’s director of development, said of the couple. “They had tried helping their kids for forever and then they were down on their luck, and who wants to go back to their kids and say, ‘Hey, I can’t do this on my own’?” CASI’s advocacy arm stepped in and today the couple is living safely and can be seen participating in activities at the center.
CASI gets better with ageFor those reasons and more, this year’s birthday celebration couldn’t have come at a better time. “When I first knew CASI, I only knew this building and what I have come to realize is that a lot of the exceptionally important work that CASI does is hidden,” said Ms. Rector, who joined the staff after retiring from a career at Augustana College in Rock Island. “People just don’t know about our advocacy program. They don’t know about Jane’s Place. They may know the initials, but they don’t know CASI’s mission.” She sees the 50th anniversary as an opportunity “to get some messaging into people’s minds that we are here, that there is nothing like us,” Ms. Rector added. Among the things leaders hope to convey especially is that CASI is nothing like the aging facilities of old. “People find it intimidating to walk through our front doors,” Ms. Kopp said. “I think they think it’s going to smell like a nursing home used to smell back in the 1970s and 80s. That they’re going to be surrounded by little old gray-haired women in wheelchairs with shawls and afghans and they’re just knitting and not doing anything and they’re all eating Jello.” She added: “Instead, they’re doing Tai Chi, or you come in hearing some of the music my kids are listening to from the radio blasting through our hallways because they’re doing country line dancing or they’re doing Zumba or any other of our really fun activities.” During a QCBJ visit earlier this month, for example, CASI members were walking crowded halls, shooting pool, doing the Chicken Dance and low-impact exercises, and playing euchre and chess. CASI’s choir was wrapping up a rehearsal in the center, which also is home to its talented band. The group is a staple in the Quad Cities and was led for years by Bob Gaston. It was recently renamed the Bob Gaston New Horizons band after the longtime CASI band director and former high school band leader died after contracting COVID-19. The center also boasts a kiln for pottery classes, hosts coloring groups, has a thrift store, and offers onsite services including tax preparation, a hair salon, physical therapy, grief counseling and more.
CASI’s long history of serviceCASI’s history has been written by five generations of leaders. One of the first and perhaps the most revered is Jerri Leinen Moeller, the woman who many in the Quad Cities call the First Lady of CASI. Though Ms. Moeller retired in 2007 after more than three decades as founding president – which she still calls her “life’s joy” – she is as committed to the CASI cause as ever. While its birthday year is 1973, the first seeds were sown in 1971 by the Catholic Diocese of Davenport which was looking for better ways to fill the unmet need for senior services in the QC, Ms. Moeller told the QCBJ. The result was the creation of Senior Iowans, Inc., and Ms. Moeller, who was then a nun with the Sisters of Humility, was part of the team working to do something for the inner city’s unserved older community. They reached out to the community and it reached back. “It was astonishing to see the response,” she said. “Those were thrilling days because it was a cross purpose of everyone feeling they were involved in something bigger than themselves and working rich and poor together to realize it.” The agency made its first home in a small room in the old Lend-A-Hand building on Davenport’s riverfront. Later, through “the tremendous help of the City of Davenport, Scott County Board of Supervisors and United Way, we relocated to 1035 Kimberly Road,” Ms. Moeller said. Along the way, she added: “We developed a transportation system and a few years later were able to spin that off to an agency of its own (River Bend Transit). We developed 12 meal sites throughout the county. Eventually, the Area Agency on Aging converted those services with two other counties and are still active.” Today, most of CASI’s members live on their own, drive and manage their own resources, Ms. Kopp said. The center is best known for its activities programs. And its current building – which has been remodeled inside to resemble an irresistibly walkable Main Street that tempts seniors to take 11 turns to equal a mile – is loaded with opportunities. And yet, fundraising remains a challenge. “As a community we face a lot of the same discrimination as aging adults do,” Ms. Kopp said. “That we are, in some way, just stodgy and slow, not tech savvy, that we don’t bring much purpose to the table and that we’re past our prime.” Nothing could be further from the truth. “The center today is so vibrant with book clubs, outreach services, fitness center, an outstanding certified Adult Day Center, tax counseling, grief counseling, technology, all kinds of dancing, exercise, pool, and card games,” Ms. Moeller said. “We have a lovely library and a plethora of volunteers which I have always maintained was the undergirth of the organization.“ “Whether you need service or can give service the door is always open,” she said.
How can you help CASI?Give a gift by going to the website casiseniors.org and selecting Make a Gift from the Donate pulldown menu. Include CASI in your estate planning. Or attend CASI’s 2023 fundraisers which include:
- 41st annual CASI St. Patrick’s Day Race, Saturday, March 18, featuring a 5K, 1 Mile Family Fun Run/Walk and ¼-Mile Tot Trot.
- Rock the Lot, Friday, July 14, featuring live music, dancing, food and fun in the CASI parking lot; $10 per person, kids under 12 are free.
- Chip In Fore Seniors, Friday, Sept. 8, CASI's Annual Golf Event at Glynn's Creek Golf Course. Set up a foursome for a best ball tourney with a shotgun start at 9 a.m. The $100 per golfer fee covers greens fees, cart, lunch, gift bag and a drink ticket. Thanks to the support of area sponsors, 100% of proceeds raised will be reinvested in CASI’s mission.
- CASI 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration at Hotel Blackhawk, Friday, Sept. 29. Details pending.
- 15th Annual Holiday Hat Bash, 5:30-9:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 16. The event raises money for CASI's Senior SECRET Santa program which provides holiday gift packages for area seniors who may not receive anything.