Though the top leadership is changing at Senior Life Resources Northwest, its focus on serving seniors remains stronger than ever.
The Richland-based nonprofit is ready to welcome its fourth executive director as it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
Executive Director Grant Baynes plans to retire before the end of the year, though he’s not leaving just yet. He’s training his replacement, Brandy Hickey, and he’s got a hard deadline for handing over the reins. On Dec. 6, he flies to his native New Zealand for an extended trip to kick off his second retirement.
In 2015, he retired from the city of Richland as fire chief after more than 35 years in the fire service. It’s also the year he started at SLR.
With Baynes’ retirement, SLR’s board of directors spent considerable time analyzing the knowledge, skills and talents needed in its next leader, said Dave Sanford, board president.
“We developed a rigorous process to screen and evaluate candidates to ensure we selected a successor who will not only hold the gains the organization has made under Grant’s leadership, in terms of both our client services, as well as our workplace culture, but is also able to meet the challenges of the future. Brandy Hickey is a proven leader with a strong passion for helping others, building teams and fostering positive relationships,” Sanford said.
Sanford said SLR has skilled and passionate directors for its programs and a dedicated, hard-working team of staff and volunteers. “Now we have a new leader who fits our organization well and will work closely with the board to support the programs that are at the heart of our mission,” he said.
Hickey, who has 15 years’ experience working in nonprofits, said she knows she has big shoes to fill, but she’s excited to take on the executive director role at the agency that offers senior home care and food services.
Hickey served as director of Cork’s Place at Chaplaincy Health Care for eight years and most recently as chief development officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, management and operations from Seattle University and has certifications in crisis intervention management and mental health.
Hickey said she loves serving the senior community.
“The job chooses you in a lot of ways,” she said. “This is where I wanted to land. This is home.”
Carla Martinez is the new Meals on Wheels director after initially being hired to oversee fundraising for the program. When her predecessor left, Martinez agreed to step into the role.
Martinez has a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Western Washington University. She spent 15 years as a health care administrator and 18 years as a public affairs manager at Energy Northwest. Most recently, she worked at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties as a donor relations director.
She’s come full circle, as her first job was working in a senior dining facility.
“I have a passion for seniors,” she said.
It’s a theme that runs through the agency, Baynes said. “It’s not about us but the people we serve,” he said.
The agency serves seniors in a variety of ways. It operates two different programs: Home Care Services, providing in-home assistance to seniors in eight counties; and Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels, which offers home-delivered meals and well-checks for homebound clients, and a dining center program that serves hot meals for seniors.
The nonprofit’s workforce includes 30 people on the Meals on Wheels side of the operation, and 48 nonunion and 740 union staff on the home care side.
There also are 15 staffers in human resources/finance/administration.
Meals on Wheels also relies on the help of about 500 volunteers.
SLR’s total budget in 2023 is $34 million, with $2.8 million earmarked for Meals on Wheels operations.
During the pandemic, Meals on Wheels closed its dining centers and instead delivered frozen meals and later offered drive-thru hot meals.
Its eight dining centers eventually reopened, but it’s taking a while to return to prepandemic attendance, Baynes said.
In 2019, 57,576 meals were served at group dining sites. In 2022, 49,002 meals were served.
The centers serve seniors hot meals five days a week in Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, Benton City, Prosser and Connell.
The Meals on Wheels program serves 600 to 700 meals per day to seniors age 60 and older with about three-quarters delivered to individual homes, and a quarter served in a group setting.
In May, the agency served up 21,562 total meals. Of those, 5,249 were meals at a dining site and 16,313 were delivered. The numbers are up more than 20% over the previous May.
The agency served 256,000 meals total last year.
Baynes noted there are more seniors to feed in the community.
“We know there are more in need and want to meet that need,” he said.
Martinez said Meals on Wheels offers more than a hot meal, too. It provides a well check for homebound seniors. Sometimes Meals on Wheels volunteers are seniors’ only link to the rest of the world.
With the nation’s mental health crisis, this is more important than ever, Hickey said. “Those connections grow so important. It’s really a big thing,” she said.
Martinez said checking in on seniors who may not feel valued or as if they have a purpose is critical. “I know we offer that connection,” she said.
There are no financial qualifiers for service, and all meals are provided on an optional, confidential, donation-only basis. Seniors are asked to donate only what is comfortable within their own budgets. No senior is denied service, and there is no waiting list. Call 509-735-1911.
The meals program has an $800,000 funding gap.
To help plug the shortfall, planning is underway for an Oct. 7 fundraiser, Oktoberfeast, which features a 5K fun run along the Columbia River, food, beer (and root beer) and live music. The family-friendly event welcomes kids and dogs. Participants can run on their own or on a team.
The registration bundle includes entry to the race, lunch, a drink, a collectible beer mug, and a collectible T-shirt.
Following the run, there’s a Bavarian-style lunch prepared by the Meals on Wheels kitchen team (last year’s menu featured bratwurst sandwiches, German potato salad, German red cabbage, sauerkraut and black forest cake. Vegetarian sausage and regular hot dogs are available, too.).
There also will be a Kid Zone, a dog corner with snacks for the pups, a beer garden featuring local craft beer, music and more.
Proceeds benefit the Meals on Wheels program.
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