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Senior Meals Introduces New Leadership; Kathleen Harter & Rich Simpson

Vision for Future Includes Increasing Meals and Events for Seniors

Over the last month, newly appointed Executive Director Kathleen Harter and Director of Operations Rich Simpson have been working to understand Copper Country Senior Meals and create a vision of what the future will look like for the non-profit organization.

Kathleen Harter and Rich Simpson.
Kathleen Harter and Rich Simpson

“I am truly inspired by what I’ve experienced so far,” Harter said. “The people in our office and facilities care so much and the participants I’ve had the chance to interact with are so thankful for the time we get to spend together.”

“We’ve only been here a few weeks, but the letters I’ve already seen from our participants have really driven home the mission for me,” Simpson added. “We want to continue to allow people to maintain their independence for as long as possible.”

The duo have been busy keeping the program’s operations moving along smoothly, getting to know the devoted staff who prepare, deliver, and serve meals five days a week, meeting seniors along the many routes in Houghton and Keweenaw counties, and constructing their future vision.  

The vision is based on the same things that have made this organization great for decades – providing seniors with nutritious food, providing daily wellness checks and opportunities for socialization. Right now, that is highlighted by serving about 200 meals a day to the homes of residents in Houghton and Keweenaw counties. Each meal includes an opportunity for the delivery driver to do a wellness check. With restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 loosening, congregate meal sites are now reopening for seniors.

“What we’re seeing here is wonderful,” Harter said. “We want to do even more by expanding the depth and breadth of where we are able to meet the needs of our seniors.”

That could include more congregate meal sites, new routes for home delivery, additional daily meals being added to the mix, or creating social events or meals in the evening. 

“Everything we do comes back to socialization and nutrition,” Simpson said. “We need to change the perception of what we are so people realize we’re aiming to improve the health and socialization of our entire senior community.”

Two of the most common misconceptions focus on who is eligible and what kind of food is cooked. Copper Country Senior Meals provides freshly made meals that meet nutritional requirements and are excellent tasting. Seniors over 60 years of age are eligible to attend Congregate Meal Site locations where they can socialize and enjoy a hot meal together. An important aspect of the Copper Country Senior Meals program is encouraging and supporting socialization of our senior community. Home-bound seniors are eligible for meal delivery within the current distribution area.  The program is donation based, with the suggested donation of $4.00 for either a congregate or home-delivered meal. However, no-one will ever be denied a meal if they are unable to pay.

“Our staff takes great pride in cooking and delivering delicious and healthy meals every day” Harter said. “It’s been a joy to witness the daily interactions that occur between seniors and staff and how genuinely everyone cares about and serves the elderly. We’re looking forward to the day when we can expand our meal deliveries and increase the number of seniors we serve.”

While the organizational vision and daily logistics are being reviewed by leadership and staff, the first big step toward an expanded future is welcoming additional employees. Currently, Copper Country Senior Meals is hiring key positions like drivers and cooks.

Harter spent the last 18 years with Keweenaw National Historical Park, working in interpretation, education and customer service. In 2018, Harter graduated from Adler University with a Masters Degree in Nonprofit Management with an emphasis on food equity. Additionally, she served on the board for Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly and has regularly volunteered to help the senior community in our region. Simpson most recently worked at Copper Country Mental Health, was the Facilities Manager for Olympic Steel, and also has a variety of  experiences in the food industry. Simpson enjoys mentoring and working with people of all ages, teaching life skills, and supporting and serving the community. The two new hires come after the retirement of longtime director Jennifer Szubielak.

Learn more about Copper Country Senior Meals at coppercountryseniormeals.org.

Leadership Changes at Copper Country Senior Meals

Copper Country Senior Meals announces changes to the organization as it continues to fulfill its mission of providing nutritious food and a wellness check so that the seniors in our community feel neither hungry nor isolated.

First the organization is saying goodbye to longtime Program Director Jennifer Szubielak (pronounced zoo-bee-lack). Jennifer has been with the agency for more than 14 years providing a smiling face, helping hand and caring touch for the organization’s employees, volunteers and seniors receiving meals. 

Senior Meals Logo

“I have enjoyed learning the history of the area through the eyes and memories of our seniors,” said the outgoing program director. “It has truly been a blessing. I will miss working in the role of director, but plan on being a substitute delivery person. I really look forward to spending more time with my family, enjoying my hobby farm and exploring more of the Keweenaw.”

The search for Jennifer’s replacement is underway. The position is currently posted at coppercountryseniormeals.org/careers and with Michigan Works

The organization is also announcing it has found a permanent home under the Portage Health Foundation (PHF). Previously the organization was nested under the legacy corporation of the Portage Health Hospital. 

“Jennifer has done a great job leading Senior Meals and making sure that our elder community has been provided for and supported,” said Kevin Store, Executive Director of Portage Health Foundation. “We’re looking forward to building upon the positive work that she and the rest of the team have done, while finding ways to support and expand the services offered to our elder community.”

All services at Senior Meals will continue as they are. There are no imminent plans in place for changes at the organization. Store said PHF and the Senior Meals Board of Directors had tried for the past few years to find an alternative home for Senior Meals; in the absence of being able to do so, PHF concluded that the partnership fits within its Food Initiative and agreed to the affiliation. 

“It is too important of a program for our community and one that we know will need some additional support to be continued,” Store added.  

PHF hopes to strengthen Senior Meals with the influence of the foundation’s Community Health Educator Meghan Jaszczak, a registered dietitian, and Dr. Michelle Seguin, the foundation’s Director of Community Health.   

“This is a well-respected agency, which provides such an important service to our community,” Dr. Seguin said. “We’re looking forward to continuing the incredible work Jennifer and her staff have been doing and hope to find ways to help it continue to evolve and improve as it fulfills its important mission.” 

The last year has been a challenging one for the Senior Meals, but they have been able to continue delivery to seniors in our area. Since last March they have seen a 20 percent increase in meal deliveries. The organization serves Houghton and Keweenaw counties with regular meal delivery. Prior to the pandemic, they also hosted community meals to bring seniors together. Recently the entire staff had the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which will help make their work even safer as they bring meals and companionship to a vulnerable population. 

If you know a senior who would benefit from having meals delivered to them or you would like to support Copper Country Senior Meals with a donation, visit coppercountryseniormeals.org. The job description for the Program Director can be found on the About page of the Senior Meals website.