For Lisa Gaggiano, Ela Township’s Senior Resource Specialist, there’s nothing more rewarding than matching one of her clients with a program that helps lift their burden, be it medical, financial or emotional.
“It can be tough to see seniors who struggle with health and finances,” she said. “There are times when a senior will sacrifice food or paying a utility bill in order to pay for a prescription drug.”
For the senior members of Ela 55+, Gaggiano is a ray of light and hope, dedicated to improving their quality of life.
She was recently named “Senior Staff Member of the Year” by the Illinois Township Association of Senior Citizens Services Committees (ITASCSC) in recognition of her outstanding commitment to meeting the needs of seniors within the community.
“I was completely surprised and appreciative of winning the award,” Gaggiano said. “We’re all winners here at Ela 55+. We have the best director and coworkers and most of all, the best seniors!”
Gaggiano has worked for Ela Township since 2006. Prior to that, she served in a similar position at Maine Township.
From her office at the Ela Community Center, the hub of the Ela 55+ program, Gaggiano provides confidential consultation on services and programs related to prescription drug coverage, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps and meal programs, transportation, Alzheimer’s and dementia support, home visitation and more. She also offers referrals for mental health counseling and assisted living and nursing homes.
“Her knowledge in the field is beyond comparison,” said Susan Dillon, Ela Township’s Adult and Senior Services Director, who nominated Gaggiano for the award.
“People constantly leave Lisa’s office feeling the weight of the world lifted off their shoulders. They leave our center knowing they have every bit of information available and have been treated with dignity and kindness no matter their stage in life or income level,” she continued.
“Here at Ela Township 55+, we are blessed to have someone with so much compassion, caring and kindness for our seniors,” Dillon said.
Through her work, Gaggiano has made many friends and finds herself inspired each day by the wisdom and positive attitudes of the seniors she serves.
“I’m honored to have gained the trust of so many seniors who seek my assistance,” she said. “It’s awesome when someone comes into my office and says they were referred by a fellow senior. It’s great to see how helping someone leads to helping someone else.”
“The Breakfast Club”
Gaggiano is known for reaching out to the seniors beyond her duties as a resource specialist, whether she’s checking up on someone who is sick, dealing with the loss of a loved one or just feeling down.
She created the Ela 55+ “Breakfast Club” after noticing several lonesome seniors frequenting the cookie trays in the morning.
“We didn’t think that was a good idea for a number of reasons and decided to offer a healthier option,” she said.
Seniors can now enjoy a hot, home-cooked breakfast every Tuesday for just $3 in the company of fellow seniors. Older gentlemen who are widowed or caring for ailing spouses have taken a particular liking to it.
“They make it a priority to meet every Tuesday and look forward to sitting around the table enjoying a good hearty breakfast and talking about everything from their families to sports to politics,” Gaggiano said. “I’ve heard a couple of them say they were feeling slow that morning and almost didn’t come but were glad they did because it perked them up and they felt much better.”
In addition to the Tuesday Breakfast Club, Gaggiano established the Friendly Home Visitor Program in which homebound seniors receive on-going visits from senior volunteers.
“I was able to match two John Wayne super fans with each other. It was instant friendship!” she said.
Gaggiano has also become a “Matter of Balance” facilitator, leading eight week-long classes that teach seniors how to avoid the dangers of falling.
As a certified facilitator with the Alzheimer’s Association, Gaggiano leads a monthly support group at the township community center. She also coordinates the participation of Ela 55+ in the association’s fundraising walk every Columbus Day weekend. This year, Ela 55+ raised more than $3,000 for the cause.
Learn more about Ela 55+ and how to become a member at www.elatownship.org/seniors or call (847) 438-9160.