JACKSONVILLE ?? As Executive Director of the Jacksonville Senior Wellness and Activity Center, Christy McMillion is a model of multitasking – planning events, managing schedules and even writing grants.
The only time her day slows down is when she walks around the center, because in every room and on every street corner, someone signals her to ask her a question, wish her a good day or take it. aside to look at the latest photos of grandchildren. If it seems like she’s interacting with cherished family members, it’s because that’s exactly how she describes her vision of each person who comes to the center.
âThese people are like a big family to me, and I really enjoy working with and taking care of them,â she said. âI just stay busy and do things. It’s part of my job.
The award is a gesture of humility, she said, given how much she enjoys what she does.
McMillion’s commitment to the center, its employees and especially the people it serves has also not gone unnoticed in the greater Jacksonville community. Recently, the Jacksonville Sertoma Club awarded him its Service to Mankind Award.
âI was surprised when they did that, and I’m grateful to them. I don’t look at what I’m doing the way someone should reward me for it, âshe said.
Barbara Thompson, vice president of Jacksonville Sertoma, also volunteers at the center. She said she saw first-hand the magic McMillion brings to her role, combining operational efficiency and caring.
âChristy really cares,â said Thompson. âShe really cares about what she does and about people. I was the director of a non-profit organization, so I know what it’s like to have employees and people who need help. Christy does everything so well.
âShe really cares about doing the right thing financially and doing the right thing for the people who come there. She goes out of her way for people. Her door is always open, and I don’t know how she does anything because people are there all the time. Yet she never refuses anyone. I just think she’s great.
Growing up and marrying in the military, she said, she moved so much that relationships with her older parents were hard to come by, the very relationships she had on the job.
âI never grew up around my grandparents,â she said. “I didn’t hang out with them a lot, so I kind of missed it, and my kids kind of missed it too.” At one point we lived in Guam for two years and we were so far away from family and friends. It was hard for us.
âWhen we got posted here, I applied for a few jobs and was offered two: one was in Little Rock and the other was here at this senior citizen center as an accountant. It was a shorter commute so I decided to come and work here and not take that much money but spend more time with my family instead of commuting. Little did I know that I was going to learn to love these people too.
After three years as an accountant, McMillion served as Executive Director, a role that cemented his commitment to the success of the center and the overall health and well-being of the people who use its services. And this list is substantial. McMillion estimates that the center hosted nearly 1,000 people last year for one or more of the centre’s programs, from art to Zumba.
âWe serve a lot of people with all of our programs,â she said. âHow we count socialization is basically anyone who comes here and participates in any program. Using this formula, we did about 16,000 socialization units last year.
The Jacksonville center also served more than 11,000 in-house meals and delivered nearly 48,000 more to people confined to homes in Sherwood, Jacksonville and northern Pulaski County. It’s an area of ââwork McMillion describes as nurturing the body, mind and spirit of the elderly.
âThere are people who fall through the cracks. They don’t work anymore; maybe they are on disability. They can’t drive anymore, or they could drive but not far, âshe said. âPeople need social interaction because people thrive on social interaction. You can become a hermit and not eat well; then your health begins to decline.
McMillion said meals and transportation to and from the center were the centerpiece of operations when she came to work here, and while these factors retain an important function, this alone does not match the changing demands of people. elderly.
âWe had a few activities like quilting, dominoes, cards, but since the baby boomers turned 60 and people lived to older ages, they didn’t want to come here and quilt,â he said. she declared. âWe were stigmatized that all these old people were waiting to die. It was just a kind of sadness and unhappiness.
McMillion’s mission in life is to make a difference. Under his leadership, the building was upgraded and expanded to include a tornado-safe room that can accommodate 400 people, a room that doubles as an activity space. She worked tirelessly to change the verbiage used in and around the center in the hopes that this would change public perception as well.
âWe used to be called the Jacksonville Elderly Activities Program, JEAP, but we don’t want to use that word ‘seniors’ either. We don’t want to separate people based on their age, âshe said. âWe’re trying to get away from that word ‘senior’, but it’s difficult. People find it difficult to know what to call us.
McMillion also guided the centre’s certification as a wellness center at the end of 2011. It was more than just semantics for the name, she explains. He certified that the centre’s programming met the seven dimensions of well-being, including physical, social and spiritual. Today, McMillion and his team use these dimensions as a benchmark when considering new activities. As a result, the monthly calendar is filled with a huge collection of interesting things to do.
âWe have tai chi, and we have Bible study; both are about spiritual well-being, âsaid McMillion. âWe have chair yoga; it is physical well-being. We have had computer classes and iPad classes that satisfy intellectual well-being. We also have guest speakers throughout the year to talk about scams, senior suicide, and depression, and all of this applies to one or more areas of wellness.
McMillion has an eye for the unique when it comes to programming, often trying out things she sees at conferences or other community centers. This is how Drums Alive made its way into the center’s program, one of the few senior programs to offer Drums Alive in Arkansas, McMillion said.
âDrums Alive hits on all the emotions that everyone has,â she said. âThe course is designed to accommodate people of all fitness levels at the same time. People can sit down and play the drums. They can stand up and do it. They can only do arm movements if that’s all they are able to do.
In addition, music is used for psychological therapy and mental well-being in people of all ages, from before birth to the end of life.
Other activities nurture the intellectual side of seniors with a practical twist, such as the six- and eight-week series of Falls Prevention, Diabetes Management, or Healthy Cooking. Still other programs offer physical activities with a competitive edge, such as baseball and chair volleyball teams competing inside walls and occasionally against outside competitors.
Tanya Kopp, the centre’s director of operations since August, said McMillion’s willingness to try new things is only one facet of his effectiveness as a leader.
âShe’s someone who takes control and does whatever she can,â Kopp said. âIf there’s something to do, she does it, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in the kitchen, if it’s janitorial, if it’s activities. If this helps someone, she’s always more than willing to do it, which isn’t something you’ll get from every boss you have.
âHer job isn’t the easiest job in construction,â said Susan Weaver, accountant. âWe have trips that seniors take. Last year they went to Maine; the year before they left for South Dakota. She takes these trips, but not just to take a trip; she coordinates the trip. She makes sure that everything goes well, that each piece of this puzzle is completed.
As for the future, said McMillion, she wants to reach people sooner to help them establish habits that avoid the problems that previous generations experienced in their golden years.
âOur target age has always been 60 or over. We’ve changed that to 50 or more now, âshe said. âBy engaging them earlier, they can better know and understand the importance of well-being. We don’t want them to be confined to the house; we want them to get engaged before that happens. Statistics have proven that if they stay engaged and stay active, they will be physically active for longer in life. It’s good for everyone – the person, their family and the community.