ALBANY — Kay Hind got into her position as executive director of the Southwest Georgia Council on Aging after landing a job in Albany working with senior citizens, which led to a passion on issues relevant to the elderly.
Nearly 50 years later, she is preparing to clean out her office at the Senior Life Enrichment Center at 335 W. Society Ave. that bears her name and say good-bye.
She said the decision to retire was one she made on impulse, but that it was the right one.
Her retirement celebration attracted many contacts Hind has developed over the years, including former state aging services officials.
“I’m really pleased to see many people I’ve worked with making the trip,” she said on the day of the celebration. “It means a lot to me.
“That really is something.”
Travel is in her plans as a retiree, but her tendency to be a homebody may keep her from going very far. Most of her family lives in Southwest Georgia, but there are a few children and grandchildren who live out of state she already intends to visit.
“I hope to also do something constructive,” she said. “I’m a big believer in keeping the mind active.”
Hind was recently reappointed to the Georgia Council on Aging, a position she said she intends to keep after her retirement in order to continue her role as an advocate. This gives her the opportunity to build on what has already been accomplished in the last few decades.
“There has been success in the last few years and this year in getting money for our programs,” she said. “I want to continue to do that.”
Hind also serves on the board for the Georgia Gerontology Society, and works with the state’s ombudsmen program. The Council on Aging’s Board of Directors is going to pay Hind’s expenses for the next year so she can continue attending meetings as a representative of those organizations.
“I can take (Assistant Director) Debbie (Blanton) and (Development Director) Izzie (Sadler) with me to the conferences and get (them) involved with it,” she said. “It is not a cutoff, it is a slow down.”
She said she also intends to get more involved in Albany area causes, and to take advantage of the exercise and art classes within the center that she fought for.
“We didn’t build this (center) just for old people,” she said. “We built this for everyone.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll be another late-coming artist.”
Before her time in aging services, Hind was working with the 4-H operations in Lee County. A condition for keeping the position was remaining a resident of Lee County, so she had to give it up when she bought a house in Albany.
She happened to find a job in Albany at the Information Referral Center for the Elderly, and the organization’s presence was just beginning at the time.
“There were no services for older people,” she said.
An elderly woman was working with Hind as a volunteer, and they acted as advocates for the senior citizens they worked with. They threw parties for them, transported them to the doctor and cooperated with organizations such as the Albany Junior League to provide support.
Whatever Hind could take advantage of, she pursued.
“Our program was funded by the Older Americans Act,” she said. “That is still our core funding. Of course, it has changed tremendously.”
As she worked with older adults and got to know them more, she developed a passion for them. United Way of Southwest Georgia accepted the Albany-based aging organization in the early 1970s. The Albany Housing Authority supplied them with some facilities to operate out of, and the support base has continued to grow from there.
The first budget the Council on Aging had was $8,000. Now it is $6.5 million.
“Honestly, I had no idea what was going to happen, or where we were going,” Hind said. “I just took it one day at a time.”
One of the most notable programs in existence today at the Council on Aging is the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, started in 1973 with a small grant. The program’s national sponsorship has changed, but its Southwest Georgia presence remains through the council.
“The program has grown to about 500 volunteers serving several counties,” Hind said.
The agency’s current name, meant to more properly reflect its commitment to its 14-county area, was adopted in 1977.
Nutrition was an early goal of the organization, which has been realized through Meals on Wheels and congregate meals. It was the first program funded, and would later be joined by nearly 20 others paid for largely through state and federal funding.
Over the last few decades, even when funding dwindled, officials were lucky to keep most expectations intact.
“I’m proud to have never eliminated a program or cut services significantly,” Hind said.
Hind said the biggest change she has seen over the years has been the establishment of a waiver program through Medicaid that allows people to stay at home rather than go into a facility when they need extra care.
“We have had the program for a number of years,” she said. “The goal is to have people in the home as long as feasible and out of a nursing home. There are 450 people in our area (taking advantage of) home care.”
In the case of some senior citizens, the primary missing component is socialization rather than money. They do not necessarily have to be of a certain income status in order to take advantage of what the Council on Aging has to offer, so officials including Hind have worked to make services all-inclusive.
“There are a lot of things you can enjoy in life without having money,” the outgoing executive director said.
Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to home-bound seniors, operates with the help of a number of volunteers who drop off the food at homes — including members of various civic clubs.
Someone who is active in that cause can learn a lot about the challenges an aging population faces, she said. “Until you see it for yourself, you don’t really understand,” Hind said.
Looking ahead, the biggest challenge for aging services is money. Hind said officials on the state level have asked local agencies to find other sources of funding as their avenues begin to run dry while suggesting charges be imposed for services that have long been offered for free.
“We are in a better position than most of (the other local agencies) because we have this (the Senior Life Enrichment Center) and can rent it out when we are not using it. That is a source of revenue,” Hind said.
The center was a project Hind strongly advocated for, and since its realization in late 2013, it has been what she describes as her “pride and joy.” It sits on a property that once belonged to Byne Memorial Baptist Church and used as its school campus. It later came under the ownership of Phoebe Putney Health System before it was donated to the Council on Aging in 2008.
The center consolidated all of the Council on Aging’s offices and services offered in Dougherty County under one roof. Before that, the office space was located on Palmyra Road and the senior services were in a storefront area on Pine Avenue.
“My dream was to always have a place that realized the value of older people, not just a store front,” Hind said. “I hope everyone feels comfortable to come here.
“It doesn’t matter if you are low-, middle- or high-income. It doesn’t matter.”
As ideas for new programs have come up for the benefit of senior citizens, officials have added them — leading to the variety that exists today. One such program allows out-of-town trips for clients, which started out with mainly widows coming along until more couples started signing up.
“We fill the gap (with what) we can do to make people happy,” Hind said. “Anyone can benefit from it. We are (aiming) to enrich life, and people take advantage of it.”
The center gained enough ground for parking to quickly became a problem, so plans are in the works to add a parking lot for the facility adjacent to North Jefferson Street. The area, while still covered by grass, is already being used as overflow parking. The departing executive director said the project is currently going out for bids, and that she intends to see it through to completion.
The foundations put in place by Hind, including the center itself, give the agency a good position for what the future holds along with the fundraising campaigns many other agencies are unable to do. For the SOWEGA Council on Aging, Empty Bowls, an annual comedy night and yearly Christmas donations add to what is already in the pot.
“We are in a better position than a lot of other programs that serve the elderly,” she said. “That was our intention all along, so you might say we have accomplished what we have hoped for — but there is more to do.”
While the Dougherty services were based on Palmyra and Pine, a search took place for what would be the Council on Aging’s permanent home, and the home Hind thought the seniors in the Albany area deserved — one that was suited for its intended purpose, and well kept.
Even before plans for a center were drawn up, an opportunity presented itself.
“(The Palmyra building) was an office space, but I wanted a place where people could come,” Hind said. “Phoebe was the tipping point.”
Permission was granted to tear down part of the Byne structure, with some key elements — such as the basketball court floor — maintained. There were 19 lots rezoned, and the building was torn down up to the outside wall.
Hind gives a lot of credit to her staff for the progress that has been made, and expresses trust that they have the ability and sustainability to carry on after she leaves on March 31.
She has put much confidence in them, and that can be a good deal of pressure.
“I’ve got a lot of good employees, and a good board,” she said. “You’ve got to have everyone on board when you are doing something like this. I’m proud existing staff will carry out programs.
“If I didn’t have the people carrying on that I do I would not decide to retire … That is one of the reasons I am willing to step down. I do have people that will carry on services.”
Abby Cox, director of the Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services, said Hind has been a “tremendous influence,” and that she has consistently acted as a cheerleader in order to ensure the resources available to seniors can blossom.
“I will miss her sense of humor,” she said. “I will miss seeing her face, and the (consistent) leadership she provides.”
The aging director also said it speaks to Hind’s character that she had an active role in the selection of her successor.
“It speaks to Kay’s leadership that she has (helped to) identify the (future) leadership for SOWEGA Council on Aging,” Cox said. “We are excited to help in any way we can.”
Jay Bulot works as the associate director for government health care solutions for Navigant, but he is also Cox’s predecessor. He came into the aging services director position from another state.
“She challenged and questioned everything I did,” Bulot said. “If she praised me, I knew I was on the right track.”
Bulot also described Hind has a cheerleader who serves as an example for other aging service directors, and referenced her enthusiasm for costume opportunities, and a love of Halloween, by calling her a “great witch.”
“She was a witch to my mad scientist. I think, professionally, that was true as well,” Bulot said.
Virginia Griffin, executive director for the Alzheimer’s Outreach Center, said Hind, with whom she has worked since she was 25, served as a mentor to her. In the time Hind has been in her role, Griffin said she has been reliant on the Council on Aging for support of her client base — the assurance of which she said she would miss.
“She had a way to get things done,” Griffin said. “She didn’t just sit around.”
Griffin, along with Nancy Goode, development director at the outreach center, were able to back up stories relating to Hind’s love of costumes. Portrayals of “The Raisins” band and Cleopatra are among those she has become known for at conferences or special events.
“She loves to dress up, and loves to stop at ‘side of the road’ sales,” Griffin said.
Griffin also said state paperwork can be complicated in that trying to get a head start often results in throwing it out and starting all over, so procrastination was a skill Hind picked up.
“When people accuse me of being a procrastinator, I tell them I learned from the best,” the outreach center director said.
Over a near half-century, Hind has developed political connections on the state and federal levels, and Griffin said that someone coming into her role will need some time to catch up.
Even so, when asked if Hind has built a good foundation for the future, Griffin said: “Oh, absolutely.”
Hind intends to run full throttle until the last day, after which Blanton will take over as executive director before Sadler eventually takes the position in 2019.
The current director has said that both individuals, given their history working with the organization, are in a good place to carry the legacy forward. Maintaining the established stability of the center and expanding on its purpose is a big part of that, especially as the aging population grows.
“If you get something that is not stable, you run the risk of it going away,” Hind said. “(The center building) is going to be here to serve the people. People are living longer, and there (will be) more people to serve.”