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Collins spearheads vehicle purchase for Senior Projects

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Albany County Legislator Zachary Collins, R-Coeymans, secured $30,000 in funding from the county to purchase a new vehicle for Senior Projects of Ravena. Pictured, left to right, are Collins, Department for Aging Commissioner Deb Riitano, Senior Projects board member Darlene Mergendahl and Senior Projects Assistant Director Lakken Kovacik. Contributed photo

RAVENA — Senior Projects of Ravena delivers thousands of meals every year to homebound seniors in southern Albany County, but they can’t do it without transportation.

With an aging vehicle that costs more to fix than it was worth, the organization has for some time been trying to purchase a new one, a costly venture.

So, the team at Senior Projects reached out to Albany County Legislator Zachary Collins, R-Coeymans, and after months of work, Collins was able to shepherd the group’s request into a funding expenditure through the county Legislature.

“The Legislature just approved a budget amendment for $30,000 to enable the Senior Projects of Ravena to purchase a much-needed van,” Collins said at the July 13 meeting of the town council. “They have purchased the van and are using it.”

Collins worked with Albany County Department for Aging Commissioner Deb Riitano to secure the funding.

“When I brought this to [Riitano’s] attention, she was amazing and she really helped me get this through,” Collins said. “They were a lot of hurdles, and it took a very long time, but it doesn’t take too much digging to find out how important our senior center is. That was something that Deb was very adamant about. If they don’t have transportation or if they’re in need of something, they need to get it because they do a lot for the county. It’s not just Coeymans, it’s for the county.”

Since it opened in 1980, Senior Projects has delivered tens of thousands of meals to homebound seniors in the community, said Lakken Kovacik, assistant director of Senior Projects.

“So far this year, we have served and delivered nearly 23,000 meals to over 500 clients, and that’s just in the first six months of 2023,” Kovacik told the town council. “We are set to exceed our numbers from last year.”

This year the facility also added a new service that provides assistance to seniors beyond Meals on Wheels.

“We also implemented a new program in January that’s called the In-Home Contact Program. There’s nothing like it in southern Albany County,” Kovacik said. “This program enables us to help seniors in ways that we were never able to do before. It includes friendly visits and phone calls with homebound seniors who would otherwise be completely isolated other than their daily Meals on Wheels delivery. It also enables us to assist seniors with grocery shopping a well as other tasks such as light housekeeping, running local errands, and other things like ordering things online… so this program really allows us to help them in more ways than just feeding them.”

The work of Senior Projects reaches beyond Ravena and Coeymans; the facility also serves seniors in Bethlehem and Glenmont, and the new van will help with delivering those meals as well as to local residents.

Senior Projects board member Darlene Mergendahl has worked with the organization in several capacities since 1984.

“Over the last 43 years, we have become a well-respected staple in our community, providing a service to our great-grandparents, our grandparents, our parents, and even now, I find that my friends from high school are at that age and are showing up, too. We are all getting older.”

Mergendahl thanked Collins “for all his hard work and diligent effort in working with us to get funding for our new vehicle that we desperately were in need of in order to continue serving meals across our community.”

Collins said he worked with his fellow county legislators, the town council and the state to get the budget amended to include the $30,000 needed to purchase the vehicle.

“To me, this is a home run when all those levels work together and can make something like this happen,” Collins said.

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