The Kenai Peninsula is home to more people 50 years old or older than there are residents in the Nome U.S. Census Area and North Slope Borough combined, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
About 41 percent — or 20,719 — of the 55,400 total Peninsula residents are 50 years old or older, and about 12 percent are 65 and older, according to the census data.
Of those who are older there is a large population with disabilities that require help day to day, said Debbie Jenkins, a support professional for Hope Community Resources.
“It’s a huge population,” Jenkins said.
She said they are seniors that may have lost their spouse or who have families that are working too often to supervise them.
Either way they don’t have that support.
Direct Support Professionals, or DSPs, like Jennifer Quimby, fill that gap
— and Quimby is being recognized nationally for her efforts. She is a DSP for ResCare and Redi Care, and this year she won the Direct Support Professional Award. Jenkins, her boss, won it in 2011.
Only one DSP is selected from each state, and on April 27 Quimby will fly to Washington D.C. to meet caregivers from the other 49 states.
“I was kind of in shock when my boss told me, ‘You were put in for the award — and, oh, you won,’” Quimby said. She did not realize how significant her achievement was until she herd “Washington D.C.,” she said.
Jenkins said it is like winning the lottery.
During the three-day conference Quimby will learn tools for helping disabled seniors and sit through many talk groups, Jenkins said.
“They were just things on how to deal with different situations,” she said. “They really kind of made a big deal over you and the job you do.”
Last year Jenkins said she met Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and rallied on Capitol Hill for Medicare support.
“You get to meet so many people who are in support of the elderly,” she said. “I felt validated.”
Quimby, of Sterling, said she is excited for the same reason — though the validation is only a perk; it is not essential.
“I feel good about what I do,” the 34-year-old said. “Nobody has to pat me on the back (for me) to know I did OK.”
Quimby is satisfied knowing she is improving the lives of the disabled elderly, many of whom can no longer speak for themselves, she said.
“It’s the satisfaction of helping them get what they want,” she said.
Family, for instance, sometimes visit their aging parents or grandparents infrequently, and that can crush a senior’s spirits, she said.
“You see people who have family there all the time and you see people who have nobody there, and to me, my heart just goes out to them,” she said.
One of her goals at Sunrise Mountain in Sterling, where she works, is to strengthen the link between seniors and their families, she said.
To do that she organized a monthly family get-together, and she has seen the difference it has made.
“When they see their daughter or granddaughter come in their face just lights up,” she said.
Aside from fostering family connections, Quimby pays general check-ups on seniors, schedules doctor appointments if they are feeling ill and arranges activities.
She said when the weather is warmer they often take field trips to Hidden Lake. She also schedules for bands to perform, like a bluegrass gospel group from Montana, she said.
Just because many of the seniors she takes care of are old, does not mean they should give up or be forgotten — “they still have a life to live,” she said.
“It’s important to take care of people,” she said. “Even if you hit 80 years old, that doesn’t mean you’re on your way out. You still have to live for the moment.”
Her patients still have the right to stay active and enjoy life, she said.
“Old people get left behind and it’s my goal that they don’t,” she said.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.