Melanie Dykes Reaches Seniors Where They Are

Melanie Dykes

Melanie Dykes just bought a new toolkit, pink of course, with a matching pink drill. But she's not just doing DIY projects at home. She bought the toolkit so she can take her service to Union County's senior citizens to the next level.

Dykes serves in two related roles in the county. As director of the Union County Senior Center, she makes sure there are activities and services for the seniors who visit the county's four senior center locations. And as the director of the Union County Office on Aging, she reaches out to seniors who aren't regular attendees at the senior centers, connecting them the with services and assistance they need.

She's been working with Union County's seniors since 2011. She was working in Union County Mayor Mike Williams' office when changes at the Union County Senior Center created a need for someone to "just keep the doors open," she said. Dykes took on the work in addition to her duties in the mayor's office. She was surprised to find her life's calling at the senior center.

"It got to the point where I just wanted to stay here," she said. "I just loved being here with everybody. I just like to be around people, and I like to be around people that appreciate what you do. I needed that. When the time came, I asked to be interviewed, and the rest is history."

The hiring process, and the reporting for the Office on Aging, go through ETHRA. Dykes has attended copious training and continuing education sessions and gained certifications in many topics pertaining to seniors.

On the senior center side of her job, Dykes said she's proud of the number of participants Union County's senior centers see each month. The Union County Senior Center in Maynardville is open five days each week and offers a hot lunch four of those days. Senior centers are open once a month in Sharps Chapel, Luttrell and Plainview with help from volunteers. Among those locations, there are 150 active seniors. In addition, Union County's seniors take between five and eight bus trips per year thanks to budgeting and fundraisers, with an average of 50 to 59 participants on each. Other activities include line dancing, seasonal parties, cards and music.

But for many seniors, the real reason to come to the senior centers is fellowship.

"I have people that if they weren't coming here they wouldn't be doing anything," Dykes said. "I have some people who never miss. It's like coming to work with 20 grandparents every day."

For the Office on Aging, Dykes is a helping hand, a watchful eye and a listening ear for seniors who can't or don't visit the senior centers. Food assistance, Medicare enrollment assistance, home health, referrals, welfare visits, or even help with home infrastructure like ramps, she can connect seniors with help.

"You would not believe how many people we have and they're isolated and they're far away from their families," she said. "I wish I could share half of what I see. I feel like seniors get forgotten. I think it takes someone being sick or to be in a hardship to get people to come together. There's so many seniors here in need. I just wish there more that could be done before it gets to that point."

Dykes spoke of one isolated senior whose floor was caving in. Dykes found a volunteer to help shore things up and bought the pink toolkit so she could help out.

While the work is rewarding, it's also hard. Dykes said she keeps on because she loves helping others.

"You really have to like people, and you have to be able to handle a lot," she said. "You have to be able to shoulder other people's burdens. I would prefer to lay down at night and know I did all I could. I try to treat people the way I'd like to be treated.

Dykes invited everyone to visit their local senior center and see what goes on there.

"Most of these people are really active. They like new faces, and they love to tell their stories," she said.

If you would like to help boost Union County Senior Center programs, be sure to participate in the drawing for a quilt pieced by Zettie Booker and quilted by Patsy Tolliver. Tickets are $2 each, and the drawing will be held live on the Union County Senior Center Facebook page Oct. 21. Info or for tickets: 865-992-3292.

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