When Bernie Sadowski first came to the Ballard Senior Center in 2009, he didn’t care about life. His wife of 50 years had died.
“It was like, OK, I’ll go to sleep when I feel sleepy no matter where I was,” he said. He didn’t care if he woke up, and he didn’t know what to do with himself.
Sadowski’s doctor told him he was going through depression and suggested that he get out and socialize. Sadowski’s daughter took him to the senior center.
“Frankly, this saved my life,” Sadowski said.
Sadowski credits the social worker at the senior center for helping him through those dark days. Most senior centers have a social worker on staff. But under the current budget, they can only work 20 hours a week.
Now Seattle could double its funding for social workers who work with older adults.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has proposed adding $250,000 in the city’s budget for social workers at senior centers. It’s part of a budget package the council is expected to vote on Monday.
“Growing old is a new journey for everyone,” Rasmussen said. “There are times when there are bumps along the road and we need someone there to help us.”
Senior centers are more than just a place for older adults to socialize. They also provide support and referrals to those who are struggling with grief and other challenges relating to aging.
Jeanese Hime, the current social worker at the Ballard center, says it limits what she can do for the people she’s trying to help.
“Some days I’ll see 15 people in one day,” Hime said. “To provide follow-up to each of these people is really challenging, working only two and a half days.”
Hime says having the extra hours would allow her to do more follow-up work and to reach out to people who might be isolated.
Last year, the Ballard Senior Center served about 4,000 older adults.
For Sadowski, his social worker was a guide back into the world.
“He suggested some classes,” Sadowski said. “‘How about bingo?’ And I got playing on Wednesday nights for bingo and came for dinners and started meeting people. And geez, I found out, holy cow, there are a lot of folks in this place that got much bigger problems than me.”