Up to date on aging

Thanks to her, Howard County senior centers are reaching out to more people

February 28, 2007|By NANCY JONES-BONBREST | NANCY JONES-BONBREST,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Starr Sowers

Manager of Senior Center Operations

Office on Aging, Howard County government

Salary -- $73,000

Age -- 56

Years on the job -- 21

How she got started -- As a social work student at the University of Maryland, Sowers took a series of classes that dealt with elderly women. Although she didn't intend to specialize in senior care, those classes changed her direction. She began working in the senior services division of Howard County while still a student. She then was named to head a county program now known as Senior Care, which helps seniors find the resources necessary to remain at home. In 1989 she began her current job.

Typical day -- She is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the county's senior centers. She also manages Senior Center Plus for seniors with mental and physical impairments. She's responsible for various activities offered at the eight centers including meal programs, physical activities and volunteer programs. Sowers also supervises the 50+ Expo, an annual event to showcase services geared to the 50-and-older population, their families and caregivers. "I'm fortunate that there has been, through all my years working with the county, a very strong commitment to seniors. And we have the resources needed."

Senior trends -- When Sowers first started working with seniors, centers were usually equipped with a sewing room and some exercise space. As new centers open up or are renovated, there is a commitment to expand exercise space, adding equipment and offering a variety of physical fitness programs. The programs include yoga, massage, tai chi and line dancing. Centers also offer computer labs. "That has been the big change, the emphasis on healthy aging and physical activity," she said. "We've had to change the types of programs we offer and look at what people are asking for."

The good -- "It's been a goal since school that I wanted to work in the community I live in."

The bad -- Keeping technology up-to-date can be frustrating, she said. But changes started after the county recently hired a new director of technology and communication services, Sowers said.

Toughest challenge -- "We are constantly trying to get the word out that we are here and we have all of these services."

Cutting edge -- Programs for seniors that are geared toward self-help management of chronic diseases.

Philosophy on the job -- Being a part of the community and building partnerships between public and private organizations. "We need to all pool our resources."

Extracurriculars -- Sowers is hoping to help establish an inpatient hospice in Howard County.

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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