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R.D. Daniels, the first and only director of Avery County’s Senior Services department in its
33-year history, prepares for retirement.
Photo by Matthew Hundley



Originally published: 2013-01-22 17:30:23
Last modified: 2013-01-22 17:30:23

Daniels retires as Aging Services director

Matthew Hundley / (matthew.hundley@averyjournal.com)

One of Avery County’s most dedicated and longest-serving public servants, R.D. Daniels, is retiring. After 33 years of service to Avery County’s older adults as Aging Services director, Daniels is retiring from the department that he helped to establish.

While Daniels is a familiar face in and around Newland, thanks to his work with Avery seniors, many residents may not realize that Daniels was actually the first director of Avery County’s senior services department when it was established 33 years ago. Currently, it may be hard to imagine Newland without its senior center and all of the services that emanate out from it, but more than three decades ago, Daniels said, the department looked much different. 

Looking back over three decades, Daniels recalled origins of the department and reflected on how those services have changed.

“When I came on with the county, they had agreed with W.A.M.Y. Community Action to take over the programs that they were doing for the older adults. They were operating a nutrition site, which was located at the fellowship hall of Aaron Baptist Church in Montezuma,” Daniels said. “When the county agreed to take over those programs, they set up this agency. They received a grant from the state to do that.”

That nutrition site in a church fellowship hall, designed to provide food and essentials for seniors in the area, was the first service adopted by the county, and served as the seed that grew into the Aging Services department of 2013.

“That was basically how we started; by taking over the nutrition site,” Daniels said. “The following year, we started a small in-home aid service, where ladies went in and helped clean homes, which we still do today, but it is a much larger program. We just started adding pieces.”

In its initial form, Daniels’ department looked nothing like the expansive facility and programs currently available.

“We went from an office in a courthouse, a part-time secretary and one nutrition site ... Now there are 11 full-time and seven part-time employees. We have added a full-fledged in-home aid program. We have added home-delivered meals as well as a congregate nutrition site. We contract still with Avery County Transportation to provide transportation for our clients. We have really grown into Medicare counseling with the SHIP, and the big thing is our big multi-purpose senior center, offering programs and services to a much larger range of folks; a lot more opportunities,” Daniels said, remarking on the department’s growth over its lifespan.

It is easy to look at the various programs that Daniels and his department have implemented over the years and see conveniences – little everyday things to make life more pleasant for older adults – but the deeper impact of those programs is evident to Daniels, who interacts with his clients each day, and witnesses how their lives are changed. 

“That is why we are here, and why I am here; to help enhance the lives of Avery County’s older adults by providing opportunities for them to both socialize and access services that enable them to, hopefully, stay at home, and put off the possibility of having to go to an institution or care facility,” Daniels said, noting that helping his clientele stay independent and in their own homes is a major goal of the department. “The programs that we provide are a low-cost way of supplementing the lives of our older adults so that they have those opportunities and services that allow them to stay at home.”

According to Daniels, small, daily contributions to the lives of older adults amounts to a benefit greater than the sum of its parts. Each of the department’s many programs plays a small role in helping to keep as many of Avery’s seniors as possible independent and in their own homes.

“That meal we have is more than just a meal. When people live alone, they tend not to prepare meals. As important, or more important, is the opportunity to socialize and see their peers; to get out of those four walls. That is a huge part of it,” Daniels said. “A lot of times it is the human contact that is the most important part. With home-delivered meals, people sometimes need to see a smiling face during the day, and their families can be at ease, thanks to the fact that someone is checking on their loved one in the middle of the day.

“Our in-home aid program helps people maintain healthy living environments so that the homes are more suitable for them to stay independent.

“I think it is a huge benefit to families. Over the last five years, we have really become more focused on caregivers to some extent. We see more caregivers taking care of older parents.”

According to Daniels, one of the most important services comes in the form of collaboration between the Senior Services department and Avery County Transportation. By coordinating transportation for older adults, the two departments work together to ensure that seniors are able to make it to regular checkups, tests and other preventative care. 

“You think of transportation as a being just a ride from here to there to access something,” Daniels said. “But transportation, the way we have tried to do it, has worked as a healthcare program, to get them the preventative healthcare they need, rather than waiting or not going and ending up in the emergency room. Our goal is to keep them home, healthy and as involved as possible in the community.”

In spite of the growth of Avery County’s Senior Services department under his leadership, Daniels said the time finally came to pass the reins to another director. 

“I really do appreciate the opportunity to work of the people of Avery County over the years,” Daniels said. “It has been rewarding and fulfilling for me. I appreciate the support from all the boards of commissioners over the years. 

“I have had a wonderful job here. I have been my own boss, as long as things go well and the county manager and county commissioners are pleased. 

“It is fulfilling knowing that you are affecting the lives of folks to some extent.”

Daniels added that the department’s new director Philip Adams will bring a fresh outlook to the department, and help keep it vital in the years to come, ensuring that the department continues to grow, without neglecting the services that seniors have come to rely on each day.

“I think, hopefully, we will be able to expand on what is available. I think that, after 33 years, it is time for someone else to take a different view of what is going on, and possibly a view as to how things need to be done, to some extent. There is no intent to change anything, and especially not to do away with anything we are doing. Hopefully we will be able to expand on and increase the numbers and go from there.”

Adams has his own impressive track record in the field of senior services, having served 13 years in Burke County, and helping to establish a second senior center for that county, East Burke Senior Center. 

According to Adams, his experience will lend itself well not only to moving the department forward, but also to preserving those aspects that its clientele have come to rely on.

I will come in with different eyes, but I am not coming in to make major changes or anything. I have done programs that R.D. hasn’t tried; just like if he came down there, he would have programs I haven’t tried,” Adams said. 

Adams noted the mountain landscape and a change of pace as the major motivators for moving his family to Avery County. 

“I look forward to meeting anybody that wants to come by, and all the seniors,” Adams said. “I am certainly interested in any program ideas for things that we can do, how we can do what we are doing better and what is going great that you want to make sure it stays the same.”